Doctors Turn Activists for better Healthcare
It’s become the sort of thing you’d expect in a third world nation in any other part of the world, and it’s found right here in Kenya. Doctors; the very elite of our society, having to resort to industrial action in order to get the minimum respect and wages that they deserve.
It took an uphill effort to get Kenya Medical Practitioners’ Pharmacists and Dentists trade Union (KMPDU) registered and recognized by the Kenya Government, in particular the Ministry of Medical Services. KMPDU sensationally came into the media limelight after the Nation’s first countrywide doctor’s strike, an industrial action that brought to attention the dire state of the health-care system in Kenya. Dubbed “Linda Afya” the Doctor’s strike revealed the sheer arrogance and lax attitude of not just the Minister for Medical services, but the government and hospital administrations in general. It took the biting strike nearly 3 weeks for any sort of workable agreement with the government to happen.
During that time, Doctors were blamed for the deaths that occurred in hospitals across the country, they were also blamed for a lack of medical services. Some even went as far as to label them greedy and only interested in their own pay. No one, during this time, recognized that our doctors were overworked when expected to do over 40 hour shifts and could not possibly be held responsible for deaths occurring due to an abject lack of resources.
KMPDU is once again in the headlines, with a strike threat at Gertrude’s Childrens hospital looming. KMPDU allege that Gertrude’s management had refused to allow its doctors to join the union, and in addition had changed the contract and terms of agreement of a pregnant doctor such that the doctor’s contract would end when she was due to deliver.
It seems that we have reached a place where the world’s most respected profession is forced to become picketers in order to receive the least amount of consideration. KMPDU was formed in recognition of the rights and freedoms of Doctors as a profession as enshrined in the Kenya constitution, and it seems just in time to bring revolution to the medical industry.
We’ve reached a point in our nation’s history, where we treat doctors as little more than orderlies. There really is no respect, no acknowledgment and no consideration for doctors in Kenya, and this utter disregard for Doctors in turn results in a health-care system that can only be said to be on its death bed.
Not a single institution in Kenya has shown regard for the doctors of this nation. Not only are they over worked, they are also underpaid, and they are forced to practice medicine in abysmal conditions with almost no resources. Any other pregnant professional would receive a 3 month paid maternity leave and be able to return to her work without losing her job.
Doctors spend 7 years in basic education, another 3 years in masters’ courses, and innumerable years in practice only to be forced to hit the streets whenever they need to be heard because Kenya’s hospitals and government choose to stubbornly ignore the pressing issues that concern doctors. We subject the smartest, most intelligent members of our society, in whom we put the obligation of saving and maintaining our very lives to wretched humiliation. It’s as arrogant and as stupid as insulting the chef just before ordering your food.
Malawi’s late President is the best caricature for how such arrogance ultimately is fated. Bingu wa Mutharika’s government not only spent almost nothing on the health-care system of Malawi, the hospitals of Malawi were ridiculously understaffed and under resourced. It’s no secret that a large majority of Malawi’s doctors had become exiles abroad, leaving in droves in order to seek better places for practice and livelihood.
When Bingu Wa Mutharika suddenly had a Myocardial Infarction or rather a cardiac arrest he was rushed to the nearest hospital, which happened to be a government run facility. Never mind the unnecessary and rather comical drama his presidential guard created in the ICU by shoving aside patients and pointing guns at the comatose. The poor doctors at the time knew that his Excellency was clinically dead, but made one last attempt to save his life, and resuscitate him and sent for Adrenaline from a facility one hour away. Note, they had to send for it, as the hospital itself had no such resources. Bingu Wa Mutharika, a whole president, thus died, helplessly, haplessly and ridiculously of his own undoing because his attitude and his government’s attitude towards healthcare was one of utter arrogance and negligence.
The moral of that story is this: in the case of a Myocardial Infarction you only have about 3 minutes to get medical attention before brain damage occurs. At that point, it does not matter how rich you are, or how high up in government or business you are. All that will matter is how quickly you can get to a hospital that has the doctors and resources you need to save your life. Isn’t it time we made sure that these highly equipped hospitals and their well trained and well resourced doctors are everywhere? Doctors’ strikes ultimately are not just about their needs but our own.