An open letter to His Excellency, the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta.
Dear Mr President,
I trust you are well. I am not and I shall soon let you know why. But first let me introduce myself. My name is Dr Wala Amakove Elizabeth. A medical doctor by training and currently an expert in health system strengthing which simply put means someone who tries to fix broken health systems like what we have in Kenya. I am writing this as 1) a citizen of the Republic of Kenya to my president 2) A health worker on behalf of many health workers whom we have lost or are ailing in the line of duty 3) an advocate of good health systems that seek to ensure the highest level of health care to the people of the Republic of Kenya as enshrined in our Constitution 2010.
Mr President, I also wear many other hats but allow me to share two that are crucial to the matter at hand. I am the Vice Chair of the Kenya Healthcare Federation and also sit on the board of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA). I am not writing on behalf of these two organisations as I do not hold the brief for them but I write as one of the private sector players who lobbied for the increased budgetary allocation towards recruitment of more health workers to address the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed we attended many meetings with teams from Treasury and Ministry of Health and the outcome was an agreement to allocate Ksh 1B towards hiring more health workers. You mentioned this in your speech at State House in early April and if you look at the video captured by the State House team then, I may have been the person who clapped the loudest upon this pronouncement. Yes. I did come to State House for this specific win for healthworkers.
Dear Mr President, healthworkers were recruited more than 5 months ago under the national government. They were posted to various county government facilities as well as the national referral hospitals. These are young medics, out of the lot of many who are currently jobless. They took up these positions on meagre pay but with a determination to serve your people. They have worked around the clock, ignoring the risks they pose to themselves and their families because they want to offer their services to Kenyans. Mr President, it has been 5 months of toiling without pay. Without any form of medical insurance. Without proper personal protective equipment. Without finances to pay their own hospital bills when they contract Covid-19. Mr President, we as health workers have been setting up fundraising channels to bail out our own colleagues from hospital bills. The carer unable to care for themselves. For a service that they lay down their lives for. A steep price to pay.
Dear Mr President, yesterday we lost another health worker to complications of Covid-19. This young man, a doctor, barely 28 years old, having offered his services for 5 months without pay, upon contracting by the Ministry of Health, died in the line of duty. We are being mobilised to fundraise for his hospital bill, for his young wife (another doctor who is unemployed) and his infant who will grow up without a father. Mr President, respectfully, is this what we signed up for? Are you aware of what health workers are going through? The billions in scandals on PPEs lying in our Medical stores and not out in the hospitals, the many workers we have lost in the line of duty, the many others who are in county governments that have not paid them for over 8 months now, the improvisation that they are doing to protect themselves as they offer their services. The list is endless. Do we hate healthworkers this much? Why don’t we acknowledge and treat health workers as the important pillar of health systems that they are.
Mr President, I am an angry citizen. I am ashamed of failing my colleagues for I celebrated with them when we got that promise of an additional budget for hiring health workers. Let the unfortunate death of Dr Stephen Mogusu be our “George Floyd” moment of addressing health worker issues once and for all. The formula is not complicated. The guidelines are there. The Health Service Commission (not ab amendment of the Health Act) has been discussed over and over again. Nothing is rocket science. We in the policy space have deliberated over this and written beautifukl documents now gathering dust in the offices of Ministry of Health and county governments.
We are tired, Mr President. And if your advisors are telling you that all is fine, let me openly tell you that health workers are tired. And Kenyans are behind them. It is time you took charge of the health sector for this is a right for every Kenyan as per our constitution.
May the deaths of all health workers not be in vain.
By Dr Wala Amakove Elizabeth via Muthoni Ouko