Health workers deserve better than what we’re giving

Saturday July 04 2020

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe provides un update on the coronavirus pandemic, at Machakos Level Five Hospital on May 22, 2020. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Fellow Kenyans, if you want an example of what a donkey’s kicks look like, look no further than the Ministry of Health’s treatment of health workers.

The perpetually eloquent, and lately querulous, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has made it one of his priorities to thank health workers, “who have worked tirelessly and sometimes under very difficult conditions”, during his press briefings.

But it seems like the “Thank Yous” are empty, given that his ministry is yet to deliver on its flowery promises almost two months down the line.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union acting Secretary-General, Dr Chibanzi Mwachonda, acknowledged the Covid-19 Emergency Fund efforts in prioritising the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers during a phone interview with me.

But he wondered why the Ministry of Health was yet to come out with information about their own efforts in distributing PPE.

Fellow Kenyans, this is not to say that the #MoneyHeist fears you had about the Sh48 million spent on airtime, tea and ambulance hire are not valid.


But let’s focus on the plight of health workers for a minute, since the government seems intent on doing the opposite.

Last week, the Daily Nation published a story about a nurse in Meru who was forced to wear improvised PPE made from a plastic garbage bag before he attended to a patient suspected to be suffering from Covid-19.


This was dismissed by the authorities as “mere propaganda”, but it remains a tragic reminder of how dire the situation is for health workers: most of them would not be able to buy their own PPE, given the flood of challenges they face, like delayed salaries and poor working conditions.

“Those dealing directly with Covid-19 patients have been sorted out with PPE kits but their counterparts, like those who actually receive the patients in the triage, are not fully equipped yet they are also at risk,” Dr Mwachonda said, adding that he was concerned about the proliferation of locally manufactured substandard PPE kits, which meant their protection was compromised.

If the Ministry of Health had a reputation for answering questions posed to them, this would be a great one to ask, given that there was a whole press conference held at the beginning of April, where Industrialisation and Trade CS Betty Maina announced that the government had started manufacturing protective masks and PPE.

To date, there’s no publicly available information on how many were made or distributed.

This cavalier attitude from the Ministry of Health is not abnormal. It’s perfectly aligned with our culture of impunity, fellow Kenyans.

We bask in its glory; we celebrate “panya routes”, which allow us to break free and travel in places where it’s restricted.

I recently overheard a conversation between two men who said that it costs Sh500 to leave Eastleigh and Sh200 to come back in despite the government ban on movement in and out of the area.


They laughed about it, perhaps acknowledging that corruption is so entrenched in Kenyan culture that not even a pandemic can wipe it off.

CS Kagwe’s calls to “behave abnormally” have fallen on deaf ears. From refusing to wear face masks properly to ignoring social distancing requirements, there’s no rule that Kenyans are incapable of breaking.

CS Kagwe should not bother scolding anyone. We are all taking the cues on impunity from his ministry. The government has also been a shining example of how not to social-distance, with all the meetings held to plot political moves that have been held of late.

There might be no solution for the perennial impunity in Kenya but since our hope in winning the war on Covid-19 is banked on health workers, it’s time to reward them all by taking care of their basic personal protection while at work.

An empty thank you, so goes the Swahili proverb, does not fill the pot.

Ms Oneya comments on social and gender topics. [email protected]; Twitter: @FaithOneya