By Dr. Frederick Kairithia, Resident, Obsterics and Gynaecology, UoN
There has been a lot of information about the current stalemate at the region’s largest referral hospital in regard to the doctors’ strike.
Foremost, I beg to provide a clarification. The public has been made to understand that the doctors whose reference is made are trainees. That cannot be further from the truth. It is an half-truth that has been coined by the institutions involved (KNH, Mathare mental hospital and MTRH) to distract attention from the main issues.
Here is the truth. These are doctors who are training and practicing to better their skills. In other words they are consultants in training. It suffice to say that as a requirement to join these postgraduate programs, it is a mandatory to have worked for more than two years either in private or public and one must have the mandatory medical board license to work as a doctor in Kenya and indeed in the world. Therefore, some of these doctors have up to ten years of cumulative working experience in the medical field. The notion being created by the information being peddled is that these are undergraduate students or at worst, equivalent of high schools students.
It’s a pity that the authorities instead of addressing the root cause of this problem; they are busy devising tactics to deviate attention from the injustices meted on these patriotic Kenyans. Patriotic I said because when other people are running away from schools, these men and women are yearning more for knowledge. Knowledge that will eventually help in tackling the health challenges of Kenyans and help towards the aspirations of the Kenya Vision 2030, health under social pillar, the Millennium Development Goals and the Kenya health sector strategic plan.
The registrars as they have come to be known (this is a misnomer and should never be used to means administrative officers of the university), have put effort in reaching where they are. In the minimum, a registrar takes six years in undergraduate medical degree program, then work for one year under supervision. This one year is referred as internship. Thereafter they work for a minimum of three years. Upon application and admission to the University for Postgraduate Programs, they take between four years and seven years in an attempt to specialize master the skills. Eventually, they graduate as consultants. These are the doctors we consults are surgeons, ENT specialists, neurosurgeons, cardiologist, gynecologist, radiologists, pathologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists among other many specializations.
In these institutions, one finds three groups of these hardworking doctors. There are those who the government has allowed to come to school for higher studies. The government has now unofficially withdrawn sponsorship to doctors to specialize. This inevitably has given rise to the next group. These are those who sponsor themselves for masters program. Finally there are trainee consultants from other countries. The last group comprise again those with sponsorship by their respective governments and those purely self sponsored.
It is good to note that studying is a selfless effort to benefit the citizenry of any given country. Thus a sensible government would appreciate first and foremost the sacrifice of this nature.
In a nutshell, the matters of healthcare in Kenya and most resource poor countries have been presided over by persons with absolutely no interest in these sectors. They have used these positions to enrich themselves and their kin at the expense of the Wanjiku. One question Kenyan doctors are asking is this: at what point will they get a government that truly cares about the health of masses?
Doctors report for training but instantly are transformed into informal employees of Kenyatta National Hospital. One is given fulltime work allocation; they use their expertise and give top notch health services to the public. In addition they generate revenue directly into the institution. The poor Kenya patient has always thought that the doctors who attend them at KNH are highly paid. Now the converse is true. They are the modern day slaves. In the sheer blackmail, they fuel their cars to report to work on time, buy their own snacks and meals while at work, pay their rents, foot their medical bills (these doctors cannot access treatment at KNH if they fall sick there!). This breech of fundamental human rights has been perpetrated despite many protests by the doctors to a point of being a norm.
The progressive societies appreciate that by intense training doctors are leaders in health teams. The government has incessantly ignored this fact. No wonder a minister in government can wake up one day and purport to suspend licenses of doctors. Licenses earned after years in school and not bequeathed. Licenses obtained after an extremely rigorous training.
It is common practice to provide a stipend for persons whose training involve work and use of skills in service provision. Anything short of that is exploitation and slavery. It is also incumbent upon the government to pay fees for those it sponsors and avoid the culture of shifting goals posts and inherent corruption. An honorable government must fulfill agreements arrived at such as the return to work formula signed with the doctors in December 2012.
Finally, it is worth noting that issues affecting healthcare in Kenya are signs of system breakdown. They also demonstrate the reluctance of a democratically elected government to solve the healthcare needs of the citizenry. By keeping people poor and sick, one maintains the hold in systemic disenfranchisement of the people. Someone must put a stop to this. That is the reason I support KNH doctors strike.