Dr Hamisi Ali Juma was to embark on a journey back to his wife and eight-month-old baby in Kenya when news broke that he had allegedly committed suicide in Cuba.
The doctor was said to be jovial and looking forward to joining his family back in Kenya before calamity struck. “What happened in between is still a mystery. His wife was expecting him. He consulted the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) about his journey back home, he was frustrated,” Dr Hassan Ahmad, a relative of Dr Juma, told the Nation in an interview.
The doctor, who was in his mid 30s, was married to Dr Zeyana Rasul, who is still in shock and trying to come to terms with her husband’s death. She was expecting to receive her husband today only to receive the sad news about his demise. Dr Ahmad described the death as a big blow to the family.
Meanwhile, a sombre mood engulfed Likoni Sub-County Hospital, where Dr Juma worked previously.
His colleagues, friends and relatives are still in shock, unable to come to terms with the fact that the doctor, who was undertaking postgraduate diploma training in family medicine in Cuba, could have taken his own life.
The Kenyan Embassy in Cuba and the police are piecing together the circumstances that could have led to the death of the doctor.
KMPDU deputy secretary-general Chibanzi Mwachonda said Kenyan doctors studying in Cuba are frustrated and mistreated.
“There are many problems — non-responsiveness of embassy and the Ministry of Health, stipend cannot sustain daily living, internet costs are astronomical, coercion from all sides you dare not walk out of the programme” Dr Mwachonda said.
In an interview at Coast General Hospital in Mombasa, union officials said their colleagues in the Caribbean country are suffering.
“Furthermore, any complaint or any reports in media results in stipends being delayed further. Bring back the doctors or allow those who want to leave to do so without prejudice, relook at the programme and structures for supporting the doctors’ welfare in Cuba before sending them back,” Dr Mwachonda added
He said that before Cuban doctors were deployed in Kenya, the union had raised concerns about the deal and other issues that they wanted addressed.
“We are communicating with our colleagues in Cuba, the welfare of our members is critical to the union. We have visited the bereaved family, what we are aware of is that our colleague was frustrated, he had a wife and a sick child,” he said.
Dr Mwachonda said the cost of living in Cuba is high compared with Kenya, adding that the allowances the doctors were supposed to receive were slashed from Sh144,000 to Sh36,000 monthly.
“They are living in one central place, in dormitories which are very far from where they go for training, food is also an issue. There is frustration and challenges, pressure and intimidation,” the doctor said.
The union alleges that Kenyan doctors studying in Cuba were also warned against opting out of the programme. “They were warned of dire consequences if they opted out, including disciplinary action and deductions of money paid for the programme,” Dr Mwachonda added.
Dr Juma was among 50 doctors who were sponsored by the government to study family medicine under a deal between Kenya and Cuba. In a joint statement, Health Cabinet Secretary and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho said that the circumstances surrounding Dr Juma’s death were not yet clear.
“Investigations are ongoing. As we await the full police report, we urge and request fellow Kenyans especially his colleagues in Cuba to be sensitive to the grieving family and refrain from discussing the case on social media,” reads the statement in part.
The union now wants all Kenyan doctors in Cuba to be repatriated to study in Kenya. Two weeks ago the doctors wrote a letter to Parliament’s Health Committee on the challenges they faced in the Caribbean country. Dr Mwachonda says the government had not responded to the letter.
Additional reporting by Nasibo Kabale.