What the Health Crisis should be achieving but isn’t

Photo Courtesy: Udaku
“Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.” These words, uttered more than half a decade ago by the great man of cloth and peace, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr couldn’t be any more relevant to us now, as we trudge hopelessly into the national health crisis, which is now at its peak; especially with the doctors strike now entering its 73rd day today. But it is not the strike that precipitated the health crisis. The strike was only a spark in the continuum of madness occasioned by highly intelligent but incompetent fellows drawn from the Health sector. The real crisis set in when we haphazardly devolved key aspects of the health function from the National government to unfledged County governments; most of which are now finalizing construction of their offices in the various counties. But this wasn’t the big problem.

The biggest problem with this country is that we never see the need to dissociate our crises from our divisive politics. Kenyans who have religiously followed through the current doctors’ strike will assert that at some point, they were left unsure of who to either trust or blame. The Ministry, Council of Governors or the Doctors. Not because there wasn’t anyone who should very much pocket the brunt of blame, but because the key actors always seemed beholden. And on 14th February, this was confirmed when the Health CS brought to light the supremacy brawls between himself and his PS, Dr. Muraguri. What this tells us is that these aren’t the only protagonists in this debacle. They are just the puppeteers. The rot is bigger than the CS, PS, or the KMPDU. And it goes back to 2013 when that CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) was signed by the doctors union officials and the Health ministry. The agreement included a clause on conflict resolution mechanism that mentioned County Directors of Health, yet failed to have them (the Counties) represented in the negotiations. Never mind that they (Counties) would be the doctors’ employers henceforth.

But our politics could not give us a chance to interrogate these very legitimate concerns. Our polarized political system is too chocked up to give us the real details of the CBA. In fact, you will have to dig a well to place your hands onto that document. Why? Because we as a nation don’t care for facts more than we do for cheap politics. And that there, is a true recipe for disaster waiting to strike. The government knowing this reality, proceeded to take advantage by peddling propaganda through the media, on how much exactly the doctors are demanding. It has popularly been claimed that doctors are demanding for 300 percent salary increment. This is a blatant lie. Besides job group R, which according to the agreement would get about 3 times salary increment, most other salary bands are only getting between 1.8 and 2.6 times their current salaries. But how will Kenyans know this when they only trust their divisive leaders for such simple details?

This crisi s would have been our best chance to interrogate the kind of infrastructure we have in our hospitals, the medical equipment which ordinary Kenyans must line up for months just to access,  the lack of adequate and accessible health centers in most parts of this country especially in the ASAL areas, the lack of drugs in these health facilities, the need for proper remuneration for doctors, or the huge bulk of money allocated by Treasury in this year’s budget to Afya House instead of being appropriated equitably to health centers across the country. This are the challenges (and many more) we would have addressed with this crisis. But every day we deny ourselves the opportunity to truthfully address them. Probably because afew of us think that their insurance cover is fully accommodative, or forget that they or their disadvantaged relatives might soon need to access these essential services, yet NHIF does not recognise them. Until you have a sick relative and you are forced to dip your hands back into your pocket to pay for their health, or you have finally depleted your insurance cover and have to call your friends for a fundraiser, then this crisis isn’t at your doorstep yet.

We have, as a nation the option to keep running and dancing around this crisis all we can. Or we can continue in our appalling silence as Martin Luther would have it. But this bliss we are currently wallowing in won’t last for long. Time will eventually catch up with us as a nation.

So while we still can, we as citizens of this great nation must keep calling out the government and all stakeholders from this sector to urgently get down to finding solutions for this very critical sector. Solutions that go beyond the stupid theatrics of a 200 percent salary demand by doctors. Otherwise, we will only have ourselves to blame.

The writer comments on topical issues

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