A show of might, puffed-up egos and threats have been blamed for the stand-off between nurses, county governments and the Ministry of Health.
In the meantime, children are missing their immunisation, patients are dying in public hospitals and the number of women turning to traditional birth attendants continues to rise.
Even with all the pain and suffering, nurses insist that county governments must sign a return-to-work agreement to end the three-week strike.
The ministry and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, on the other hand, insist there is no money and have urged nurses to embrace dialogue.
Mid last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta instructed the nurses to report to work by February 15.
In a press statement, the President said county governments would be at liberty to dismiss nurses who disobey the order. “I have instructed the National Police Service to take action against picketers who may intimidate or harass public servants who intend to go to work,” Mr Kenyatta said.
Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary-General Seth Panyako said such a directive should come from the public service boards. He said orders from “other quarters” were political and intended to sabotage health services.
“We respect the President and the government. We respect the law but the same law must be applied rationally and equitably,” Mr Panyako said.
The Council of Governors, the Attorney General and the Health and Labour ministries filed contempt of court charges against the nurses.
Union officials will appear in court on February 26 to explain why they should not be held in contempt. So far, nurses in 15 counties are taking part in strike.
According to the union, the national and county governments are not sincere when dealing with nurses.
“We need to get what rightfully belongs to us and instead of addressing us, State and county officials have resorted to sideshows and threats. We have ceded ground for long and we must be heard,” Mr Panyako said.
When nurses began the strike, Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani formed a committee to look into their grievances. He gave it 30 days to file its report.
There has been a series of meetings to end the impasse but nurses say the negotiations should have begun immediately the strike notice was issued.
The Council of Governors also went to court to stop the strike. The High Court suspended the strike for 60 days but the nurses would hear none of that.
Kakamega County boss and Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya said the court ordered nurses and their employers to attend conciliation meetings initiated by Mr Yattani.
Mr Panyako dismissed calls for negotiations.
“We shall only talk if the agenda is grading structures and harmonising salaries,” he said.
The union accused the Labour Ministry of frustrating the implementation of the November 2, 2017 return-to-work agreement. The nurses are demanding uniform and service allowances.
Every nurse gets Sh20,000 a month in service allowance but the amount was to be increased to Sh30,000 over three years from 2017.
The uniform allowance was raised from Sh5,000 to Sh10,000. But SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich insists that county governments were not part of the deal.
“The commission had given directives on the agreement but it was ignored. I do not know how we are part of this. If counties have no money, we will want to know where the ones that have paid nurses got the funds from,” she said.
The SRC boss added that about Sh3.5 billion is needed every year for the service and uniform allowances, “and that is not sustainable”.
Ms Mengich said the commission has been told by devolved governments and the Treasury that there was no money to meet the nurses’ demands.
“Some 10 counties have informed us that they have budgets for the allowances. People need to know that a budget is not funding but an estimate of what is expected from the Treasury,” she said.
The governors, on the other hand, maintain that they will not listen to the nurses and have referred them to their “employer”.