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Doctors on strike in Kenya seek higher pay, better conditions

December 7, 2011 | 11:52 am

Public-sector doctors on strike in Kenya marched in Nairobi, demanding more pay and better equipment as patients sought care in public hospitals manned by trainees
REPORTING FROM NAIROBI, KENYA, AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Public-sector doctors on strike in Kenya marched in the capital of Nairobi on Wednesday, demanding more pay and better equipment as patients sought care in public hospitals manned by trainees and teaching staff.

On day three of their countrywide strike, the doctors also demanded improved facilities and a better stock of drugs in hospitals.

Marching in their white coats to the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry, the protesting doctors shouted, "Shame, Shame!" and "Doctors' power!"

Unless the government offers higher pay and better conditions, doctors will continue to flood out of the country for well-paying jobs in Western countries, said Dr. Victor Ng’ani, chairman of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union.

"Six months ago, we were 2,900 doctors," he said, referring to public-sector doctors. "Now, just six months later, we are 2,334 doctors, and this is an unacceptable rate of exit."

Ng’ani said public-hospital doctors were overworked and underpaid. The starting pay for doctors in Kenya is reportedly about $400 per month.

"If they pay doctors better, [the doctors] will be willing to stay here for longer," he said in an interview during the doctors' protest rally. "Underpayment results in this exodus, and the few doctors are overworked."

Ng'ani said there are about 5,000 doctors in Kenya, including private-sector doctors. Hospitals and doctors have not received appropriate support for years, he said.

"Our union is founded on two pillars: The first is to improve the welfare of the doctors, and second and more important is to improve public healthcare provision, which has been neglected in the last 20 years."

Canadian research published last month in the British Medical Journal found that African countries had spent nearly $2.2 billion training doctors who left the continent to work in wealthy nations such as the U.S., Britain, Canada and Australia.

The government is using consultants, teaching staff and trainees to try to provide emergency care at hospitals during the strike, but many patients have been left unattended and Kenyan media reported at least one patient died because trainees couldn't diagnose him.

There have been long lines of patients waiting at the country's biggest public hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital.

"I have been here all day. I brought my child for an operation to treat a stomach ailment, but she has not been attended to," Anne Nduta, 32, told Reuters news agency as she cradled her 6-year-old child.

Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper quoted Medical Services Assistant Minister Kambi Kazungu as saying that the government couldn't meet doctors' demands because it had channeled resources to the military, which is engaged in operations in Somalia.


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-- Nicholas Soi and Robyn Dixon

Photo: Striking Kenyan doctors march through Nairobi on Wednesday. Credit: Katharine Houreld / Associated Press