We’re not ready, doctors say as nurses warn of strike

Tuesday March 24 2020
By ANGELA OKETCH
By ELIZABETH MERAB

With almost 3,000 health workers infected in Italy, medics in Kenya are warning that they will down their tools if the government does not protect them against the coronavirus.

Kenya National Union of Nurses secretary-general Seth Panyako said nurses are front-line workers who need extra protection. He said Section 13 of the 2007 Occupation Health and Safety Act requires an employer to provide equipment and maintain a clean working environment for employees. If this is not done, he said, Section 14 gives the employee the right to abscond duty when they know that their life is at risk.

“If this virus starts hitting us hard, understaffed hospitals are going to witness an overwhelming number of patients, extremely long hours for medical staff and shortage of protective gear, leaving our nurses underprotected, overworked, and increasingly vulnerable,” he warned.

He added: “I have advised my people that they should only attend to patients when they are protected. If the government does not provide the equipment required, I don’t see why our nurses should put their lives at risk.”

Similarly, several doctors have taken to social media to express their worry at the perceived laxity of the Ministry of Health in taking charge of the situation and coordinating response between counties and the national government.

The country, they claimed, has not prepared well enough to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, which the Johns Hopkins University’s Centre for Systems Science and Engineering said had infected 185,067 and killed 7,330 as of Thursday.

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“Our health and surveillance structures are not robust enough to pull this off,” said a doctor who didn’t want to be quoted for fear of victimisation.

Mitigation strategies to slow down the further spread of the virus should have been implemented immediately.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has in the past reassured the public that the country is well prepared and that there is no need to panic.

He noted that isolation rooms across the country had been furnished with more than 100 hospital beds.

But, the doctors said, the ministry is yet to issue clear guidelines on how to handle cases. It is as if every county is on its own, they said.