Gunmen have abducted two Cuban doctors in a road ambush at Banisa stage in Mandera town, some 1,135 kilometres from the capital Nairobi.
While police are yet to name the two medics, records from the Health ministry show that Dr Assel Herera Correa, a general physician, and Dr Landy Rodriguez, surgeon, were the ones posted to the county that borders war-wracked Somalia to the East.
In the daring attack that was staged a few minutes after 9am, the attackers shot dead one of the two police officers who were escorting the the medical staff to their work station.
The officers, one from the Administration Police and the other from Kenya Police, had picked up the health workers from their houses in a Mandera County government vehicle.
During the ambush, the armed assailants in a saloon car and a Toyota Probox first blocked the vehicle ferrying the medics to work.
According to witnesses, they then alighted and opened fire on the police officers, killing the AP instantly.
The other officer managed to escape in the attack that happened right in the middle of the northern-Kenya town that has suffered attacks and kidnappings from the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorists.
The gunmen then bundled the two health workers into their cars and sped off and reports police on Friday confirmed that they had crossed the border into Somalia.
The fate of the foreign doctors was not immediately clear but police have recovered the Mandera County government van that was ferrying them before the ambush.
"The driver of the county government vehicle has been arrested and is being questioned to help us understand what happened," Mr Charles Owino, the police spokesman, told reporters in Nairobi.
Mr Owino said the Kenya Defence Forces, various units of Kenya Police and Kenya Police Reservists had been dispatched to chase after the two vehicles used in the raid and abduction.
Reacting to the attack, the national union of medical practitioners in Kenya called on security agencies to move with speed and secure the safe release of the abducted doctors.
Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union secretary-general Ouma Oluga on Friday condemned the incident.
“We have learnt with shock, news of fatal shooting of a police officer and subsequent abduction of two doctors in Mandera County. We strongly condemn the unfortunate incident,” he said in a statement.
“We urge the security agencies to leave no stone unturned in order to secure the safe release of the abductees and justice for the bereaved family. We pray that our colleagues return safely.”
Dr Oluga said the incident should serve as a wakeup call for the government to beef up security in areas prone to attacks like in Mandera.
“We continue to urge the government to step up protection for all health workers in these areas. This incident calls for a reminder to all that medical workers should never be a target for insecurity even during crises or conflicts given the humanitarian nature of services they offer,” he said.
The abducted doctors are among 110 Cuban specialists that Kenyan imported from Havana in June 2018 in a bid to improve the quality of medical services in rural areas.
Each of Kenya's 47 counties received at least one specialist as the Health ministry sought to bring the services of the contracted staff closer to the people.
“The main idea in bringing these specialists is to learn from the Cuban experience in building a robust primary and curative healthcare system that has afforded the country universal health care,” Dr Rashid Aman, the chief administrative secretary at the Ministry of Health, said when the doctors arrived in 2018.
In June 2018, the National Treasury allocated Sh1 billion to cater for salaries, security and other benefits due to the foreign medics.
The doctors will take home a total of Sh563 million in salaries annually, according to a breakdown presented to the National Assembly’s Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC).
“The committee was informed that the project is a bilateral agreement between Kenya and Cuba and has an allocation of Sh1,001,922,000,” Kimani Ichung’wa, who chairs BAC, says in a report on the budget estimates for the 2018/19 financial year.
Additional report by Collins Omulo.