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Kenyans turn to ill-equipped health facilities

Posted by Administrator on March 5, 2012

NAIROBI- An ongoing strike by government nurses and other health workers has made many Kenyan families, especially low-income earners, to seek healthcare in ill-equipped private health facilities.

Distressed family members are turning to low-cost private health facilities, many that are poorly staffed and badly equipped to save lives of their loved ones.

The nurses, whose services are critical in running of health facilities, went on strike on March 1 paralyzing activities in all government hospitals across the East African nation.

The industrial action comes barely two months after government doctors inKenyawent on strike to push for a salary hike.

The health workers are fighting for improved working conditions and a 300 percent salary increase, which they claim has not been implemented by the government despite an existing deal signed in December, 2011.

“The government and the public must be well informed that what we are fighting for is not only money but also improvement of services. Let the government tell us for how long are we going to innovate on how to serve Kenyans,” said Kenya Union of Kenya Civil Servants Secretary General Tom Odege.The union official noted the strike was over 80 per cent successful and health workers will not resume work until their grievances are addressed.

In response to the strike,Kenya’s government has threatened to sack the health workers if they do not return to work.

“We will sack them and employ new nurses, drivers, lab technicians and other workers. We have over 30,000 applications lying in our database,” said Kazungu Kambi, Assistant Minister for Medical Services.

The minister said the government has cleared all the allowances the health workers are claiming.

“They have been paid all their allowances. We have paid nurses working in remote areas 301 US dollars over and above their salaries. We have paid mortuary attendants 84 dollars and drivers 60 dollars,” he said.

And as the standoff persists, Kenyans, who are hard hit by high inflation standing at over 18 per cent according to Kenya Bureau of Standards, have no alternative but to turn to private hospitals and clinics.

Most of those who have health insurance covers are seeking services in established private hospitals. However, it is the low- income earners, who are the majority, that are endangering lives of their loved ones by taking them to questionable health facilities.

“We have been forced to withdraw our aunt from the public hospital and transfer her to a private clinic. This was the second day she had stayed there without getting any medical attention,” George Okoth, whose aunt was admitted atKayoleDistrictHospitalin the capital, said on March 3.

His aunt broke her leg about a month ago and according to Okoth, it needs constant nursing.

“Before we resolved to withdraw her from the hospital, the bandage had not been changed for two days and she was in deep pain. We did not want to risk because we knew like the doctors’ strike in December last year, this may persist for long,” he said.

From the hospital, Okoth recounted he first took his aunt to a renowned private hospital but he could not afford the required admission fee.

“I was asked to pay 121 dollars before they attend to her but I did not have the money. I left and took her to a private clinic in Kayole estate where they admitted her after I paid 24 dollars,” he said.

Although the clinic at the time of admission had only a nurse, Okoth noted that it is better than her staying at the public facility without getting any medical help.

“I wish I could have taken her to a better hospital but I do not have the economic ability. My prayer is that the strike ends soon so that I can return her to the district hospital,” he said.

Like Okoth, Fred Kamiru, a resident of Rongai inNairobi, said his pregnant wife was forced to go for maternity check-up at a private clinic in the estate.

“She has been going to Mbagathi hospital for the past four months but on Friday when she went there, she could not be attended to because nurses were on strike. I asked her to go to a private clinic in the estate as we wait for the strike to end,” he said.

However, even though he is relieved his wife got medical attention, he is worried about his younger brother who is a TB patient.

“His drugs, which he gets from a public hospital, will end on March 6. I hope the strike will be over by then because he may default on treatment thus jeopardize his health. I cannot afford to buy the drugs in a chemist,” he said.

In public hospitals, where the Government adopted a cost- sharing method, patients pay as little as 1.5 dollars for most outpatient services. Similarly, inpatient services, like surgeries, cost as little as 55 dollars.

This is incomparable to established private health facilities where patients pay up to over 120 dollars for outpatient services.

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