Senate probes state of Kenyan doctors in Cuba after one dies

Wednesday March 20 2019

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki 

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki speaks during the E-Plus Medical ISO certification award ceremony on February 6 2019. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

DAVID MWERE
By DAVID MWERE
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The Senate has launched investigations into the welfare of 49 Kenya doctors on an exchange programme in Cuba amid complaints that deplorable conditions led to the death of Dr Ali Juma.

Dr Juma, a postgraduate diploma student in family medicine, died by suicide after he was denied clearance to visit his family in Kenya.

On Wednesday, Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka directed the House Committee on Health, chaired by Trans Nzoia Senator Michel Mbito, to probe the matter and produce a report within two weeks.

“The committee should consider the matter expeditiously and report to this House,” Mr Lusaka said after Bomet Senator Christopher Langat sought a ministerial statement, noting the matter was grave so it could not go unattended.

CS ACCUSED

But even as this unfolded, senators accused Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki of doing little to address the issue; they said her silence on the death of Dr Juma was not only worrying but also contemptuous to the medical fraternity and the country at large.

The legislators demanded full disclosure on the terms and conditions of the agreement between the two countries, while questioning why the government is yet to dispatch a delegation to Cuba to ascertain horrifying tales told by affected doctors.

Mr Langat said it was "annoying" to see Cuban doctors in Kenya "treated like kings and queens" while the Kenyan doctors in Cuba are subjected to conditions not befitting humanity.

“The Cuban doctors are entitled to free transport, internet and housing but Kenyans in that country are forced to pay house rent [and go] without internet or [make do with] poor connection and pay transport to the work place,” he said, adding they should be brought back home.

COMPLAINTS

The deal for the programme at the Latin America School of Medicine in Havana was entered into by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Cuban colleague Raul Castro.

It was meant to catapult Kenyan doctors into one of the world’s best practices in the field.

However, what is emerging is a script of Kenyans suffering on foreign land with no concern by their home country as frustrations and other hardships take a toll.

The alleged mistreatment has seen the Kenyans complain on several occasions through the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU).

Before his death, Dr Juma cited concerns such as a high cost of living and asked for higher allowances as well as living conditions.

KMPDU Secretary-General Ouma Oluga, in a statement on the termination of the programme, said the union could authoritatively report that Dr Juma wanted to terminate his programme due to these challenges.

EQUAL TREATMENT

Mr Langat blamed the government, saying it ignored the union.

“Their request for an annual return ticket just like their Cuban counterparts was denied,” he noted.

Senators Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), Samson Cherargei (Nandi), Okongo Omugeni (Nyamira), Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), Ledama Ole Kina (Narok), Hargura Godana (Marsabit), Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) and Ochilo Ayako (Migori) said it was unfortunate for the minister to remain quiet as Kenyans Kenyans are mistreated.

“We must demand equal treatment of our people. Training a doctor is not easy and losing one is a big loss to this nation,” Mr Murkomen said.