A fter a standoff which lasted 100 days, Kenya’s doctors have gone back to work. The deal, reached with the government in Nairobi on March 14, will give them a wage hike. But it fails to address wider concerns about a dearth of funding and manpower.
Doctors first went on strike in early December over the government’s failure to raise wages by 150% and improve working conditions, as promised in 2013. The Kenyatta administration said it lacked the money to do so, but doctors pointed out that Kenyan members of Parliament are among the best paid in the world, receiving $11,500 every month.
Awino Okech, a Kenyan academic at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said the country’s health system “has been crumbling for a long time”. The fact that Kenyans “resort to medical tourism for ‘basic’ healthcare demands points to this decay”.
Abdullahi Halakhe, part of Amnesty International’s Kenya team, told The World Weekly that the country faces “an acute shortage of doctors”. For every 5,000 people there is just one doctor; the World Health Organisation recommends having at least five.
More than 2,500 health institutions were affected by the dispute. Many hospitals closed and the few that stayed open were staffed by army doctors. Access to private hospitals is out of the question for poor Kenyans. It is not known how many people died as a result of the walkout.
Critics believe the government failed to take the doctors’ demands seriously. However, once the strike began it reacted bullishly, jailing union chiefs, threatening to fire every doctor in the land and spraying tear gas at protesters.
This week’s u-turn may have been performed with one eye on elections in August. Ms. Okech suggests the strikes have damaged the government’s reputation and that the doctors maintained the support of most voters and civil society. The final deal requires more haggling, but Kenyans will be relieved that their doctors will see them now.