Patients continue to suffer as doctors' strike continues

Saturday January 21 2017

 Coast General Hospital

A woman sleeps outside the Coast General Hospital where her sister is admitted, on January 19, 2017. Doctors are still on strike. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PETER ODUOR
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Far reaching effects of the debilitating medics’ strike on Thursday continued to sink in with more than 200 people succumbing to their ailments, Saturday Nation can report.

Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu this week failed to release the exact figures of Kenyans who have died, but going by President Kenyatta’s statement earlier on that 20 people had died in the first three days of the strike, the number must have passed the 300 mark.

Kenyans are still going into another week without a solution in sight.

The doctors union and the government held closed door consultations on Wednesday and Thursday but nothing came of them.

Doctors have now warned that the country should brace for a longer strike, one that might take up to six months.

This week’s talks came after several failed negotiations, a 40 per cent pay increment from President Uhuru Kenyatta that the doctors rejected, the arraignment in court and a suspended jail term for the union leaders and an unacceptable number of deaths.

More than 10 county health directors who were reached by the Saturday Nation confirmed that tens of patients had died in their regions, adding that the numbers must be much higher because many go unreported.

“When public health is shut down, people die at home. The ones that die in mission hospitals or private hospitals can’t present the right analysis,” a county minister of health said.

He said people who can give the exact figures of deaths at home are assistant chiefs since they have to make direct entries of deaths in their area.

HEAVY LOSSES
Since December, newspapers and TV news have been awash with reports of preventable deaths such as that of babies and mothers dying due to prolonged labour.

With operations in the country’s two national referral hospitals and other health facilities across the country crippled, it is chilling to imagine the human cost of the strike on poor Kenyans.

Article Four, which specifically looks at matters of doctors’ salaries in the CBA has been the most hotly contested, was supposed to be discussed on Thursday, the day the talks failed to take off.

It is not just human life that has been at stake. The financial loss of the strike runs into millions of shillings.

Businessmen who supply different products to hospitals have not been paid as the operations have all but stalled.

The economy has also lost innumerable man hours due absentee sick employees.

Kenyatta National Hospital spokesperson Simon Ithae said that the financial loss from the 48 days of strike is irreparable.

"There are suppliers who supply KNH and the other hospitals with medical accessories like cotton wool or implants.

"There are suppliers who supply hospitals with food products. All these things stopped," he said.

Lily Koros, the CEO of KNH, declined to comment on how much the hospital has lost from payments from dialysis patients who pay Sh5,000 per session.

In November last year, Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) stopped the delivery of drugs to level four hospitals in Nairobi owing to unpaid arrears.

Last week Friday, the county government paid Sh30 million to Kemsa for the drugs.

Economist David Ndii has said that the financial implication of the strike is immeasurable.

That the idea of "quantifying human suffering is repulsive. We can’t quantify human life".

But a different economist, Dr Fred Ogolla, thinks it can be done, albeit in an unorthodox manner.

“It is a whole economic ecosystem. The patients and the charges that they are levied, the supplies, the doctors and nurses and the man hours that they lose when they are not working,” Dr Ogolla said.

POOR WORKING CONDITIONS
He explained that all these things can be quantified and a figure put on them, including the hours companies lose when workers don’t show up due to sicknesses.

The lecturer and Strathmore Business School Academic Director suggests that if the government was to spend Sh60.269 billion (according to the 2016/2017 budget allocation for the Ministry of Health) in 12 months, 48 days of suspended operations have disrupted that plan.

The loss accruing from those 48 days, inclusive of financial losses from the supporting ecosystems is staggering. 

Even as we crunched these figures, doctors told of the difficulty they endure at work.

Dr Cleopas Mutua, a Senior House Officer at KNH, said that one doctor takes care of 20 infants on 12 hour shifts.

"We lack proper equipment and the hours are dreadful. How can one doctor look after 20 children?

"In some cases, one of those children requires eight tests and at that same time, the other 19 require your attention.

"When drugs run out – you need to requisition for them – that process takes hours. By the time you get it, the baby is probably dead," he said.

Dentist Kamau Kimani, also from KNH said on average 200 patients visit daily.

THE SOLUTION

But going by the five or six defective dental chairs that they have, they can only see 13 or so patients out of the 200.

"Root canal treatment in KNH is seriously affected. Patients have to wait for up to three or four months to be attended to.

"And not just that, some drugs are never available, local anaesthetic run out, X-ray machine is not working, even the medication to stop bleeding frequently gets finished.”

He added that most dentists only work for a year or two before they quit the public sector and join private hospitals because of the deplorable working conditions.

Dr Ouma Oluga, secretary-general of Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union (KMPPDU) believes that the implementation of the CBA will solve all these problems.

He said: "The implementation of the CBA is all we need. We have presented seven alternative implementation proposals with timelines that extend till 2018.

"It should be noted that doctors have come to appoint where they feel that they have nothing to lose."

Dr Oluga accused the government of misrepresenting facts of the CBA, an act he says was aimed at portraying the doctors as irresponsible and unreasonable in their demands.