The pain and agony ordinary Kenyans continue to suffer as a result of the ongoing strike by doctors should be taken seriously by the county and national governments and urgent efforts made to resolve the matter as soon as possible.
The casual and pedestrian approach to the problem, in my considered opinion, not only points to a failure in leadership, but also lack of sensitivity to the millions of Kenyans queueing at our public hospitals seeking treatment as well as the many families that have needlessly lost their loved ones due to lack of medical attention.
Instead of continuing to engage the striking doctors in an honest and respectful dialogue, the county and national governments have resorted to bullying and strong-arm tactics even contemptuously threatening to sack the striking doctors and replace them with “imported” physicians.
This is not only absurd, but also tragic because such tactics will only harden the position of the striking doctors and it is the ordinary Kenyans with the public healthcare system as the only option who will continue to suffer. The consequences of sacking the doctors will run deep potentially dealing an already struggling public hospital system a mortal blow. This will also send a negative signal and discourage young Kenyans aspiring to join university and study medicine.
Saying that doctors working in our public hospitals endure some of the most challenging conditions is an understatement. They are clearly doing their best under the circumstances to provide the best care they can to their patients even when they have to contend with poor remuneration, shortage of drugs and equipment as well as working long hours due to a shortage of personnel.
That we are now contemplating or even entertaining the idea of hiring foreigners to replace the striking doctors is beyond a joke when we have spent so much money as a country training and preparing these professionals to serve Kenyans in our hospitals. In any case, the option of importing doctors just doesn’t make sense whichever way one looks at it. Expatriates will certainly have to be paid higher salaries than what the striking doctors are asking for. Unless volunteering their services, we can safely assume foreign doctors who choose to relocate to Kenya will not live in your average suburbs paying average rent, sending their children to average schools neither will they shop in our average shopping joints.
This then begs the question, why are the county and national governments even considering this option instead of negotiating a sensible deal with the striking doctors?
Perhaps the lack of interest and urgency in resolving the current impasse or even considering the option of sacking the striking doctors and replacing them with foreigners whose credentials we will have no time to verify is because while ordinary Kenyans continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing strike, our political leaders and by extension their families, who never use our public hospitals, have the means to access private medical services.
If truly the interests and welfare of Kenyans matter, then then there is only one option: They should get the doctors back to the negotiating table, drop all the threats and respectfully and in good faith negotiate with them to find lasting solutions to the grievances the doctors are raising.
The county and the national governments should abandon the thought bubble of recruiting foreign doctors or even the conversation around wages doctors in neighbouring countries earn because we are not in a race to the bottom by comparing ourselves with the lowest denominator.
Our doctors and other health professionals deserve decent pay and, as a country, we can do better or we will face a brain drain we will not be able to stem as the doctors leave in search of greener pastures.
Common sense holds that well-trained, remunerated and motivated doctors along with well-equipped public hospitals can only create improved health outcomes for ordinary Kenyans. This is where the focus of the two levels of government should be.
Dr Gitaa Nyasani is a political and security analyst.