The Health ministry is preparing to appear before a parliamentary committee, for the second time in a week, as pressure to bring back Kenyan doctors from Cuba mounts.
Some members of the National Assembly committee on Health have thrown their weight behind doctors by asking the ministry to consider relocating 48 doctors on an exchange programme if it is unable to take care of them.
Amid rising complaints that the doctors pursuing a postgraduate diploma in family medicine live and study in deplorable conditions, which may have led to the death of one of the students, Dr Ali Juma, MPs now want to know why it was important to ship the doctors to Cuba to study a course that is being offered by a local university.
The MPs argued that the conditions in Cuba may not be conducive for the doctors’ studies.
The committee on Thursday last week summoned Ministry of Health officials to shed light on the living conditions, stipend and salary disbursement as well as the doctors’ general well-being in Cuba.
“Why didn’t you consider training them at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) Eldoret where family medicine is also offered?” asked Matungulu MP Stephen Mule.
The government, in its efforts to build human resource capacity in health, signed an MoU with Cuba for the exchange of specialists for service delivery and skills transfer.
But the death of Dr Juma exposed the soft underbelly of the government-sponsored programme, leaving MPs with more questions even as the Health ministry through the Principal Secretary Susan Mochache tried to wiggle their way out of the murky situation.
Following the death, the ministry sent a team of officials to Cuba to assess the situation and document the challenges the trainees are facing. The team led by Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Asman, left on Wednesday and is expected to be back in a week's time.
The team will present its findings to Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki on March 30.
“We put together an expert team because we would like to understand the challenges the doctors may be facing,” Ms Mochache explained.
The doctors (including Dr Juma), who have been in Cuba for seven months, had written to Health committee chairperson Sabina Chege, saying, it was no longer tenable to continue with the programme given the logistical challenges they endure. It is not clear whether the complaints were addressed.
“A number of promises were made, including timely remittance of the allowances and arranging own accommodation by the end of February by the ministry. However, none of these pledges were actualised and our projections of what lies ahead in terms of academic programmes and accommodation seem to be shrouded with uncertainty,” reads the letter.
Whereas the ministry has defended itself saying no doctor was coerced to go to Cuba, the trainees claim they boarded the flight and continued stay on the programme due to threats from the government.
“We were then made to board the plane with threats that whoever does not do this should write his/her name on a list that was provided and would face undisclosed tough disciplinary actions by his/her county,” says the letter that was signed by the doctors.
Ms Mochache told the Health team that the counties where they worked nominated the doctors, and that they left for Cuba voluntarily.
Whereas the duration of the course is two years and four months, the PS defended the ministry, saying, any doctor who felt unable to complete the course was free to terminate the programme and come home.
“The government sends many students abroad. Since the scholarship study was on voluntary travel, any doctor who was not ready to go was not coerced. We have not also received any other formal request from any student saying they want to come back home,” Ms Mochache said.
She added that since the beginning of the programme, only one student’s scholarship was terminated after they came back for treatment and found not fit to go back to the Caribbean country.
According to Ms Mochache, all communication to the doctors was done both in Kenya and an orientation on life in Cuba to prepare them conducted.