Families in mourning as doctors’ strike persists

By , K24 Digital
On Wed, 17 Apr, 2024 06:00 | 4 mins read
Doctors strike in Nairobi. PHOTO/KMPDU(@kmpdu)/X

While it is not the first time that the country is experiencing a doctors’ strike, as is always the case, families dependent on public health facilities for critical medical care have been the most hit.

Two families in Mombasa County are mourning the loss of their children who died for lack of  essential health care services following the doctors’ strike, which enters its fifth week tomorrow.

 On  March 23, an expectant mother, Winfred Nduku, from Tudor area experienced labour pains and was rushed to Coast General Teaching and  Referral Hospital for delivery. She was turned away, forcing her to seek help at a private hospital in Mtwapa. While the delivery was successful, the newborn developed  fever and had to again be rushed to the same hospital.

“The only thing they did was check on the child. They said the doctor wasn’t around— he only came in on the seventh day. When he came, he ran some tests on the child and confirmed that she had an infection. The doctor said he would communicate to Coast General Hospital to see if the child could get treatment. When he called, they told him that they were not admitting any patients,” shared Winfred Nduku. 

Helpless parents

Winfred lost her child, while still bearing a bill of almost Sh100,000  post-surgery.

On April 1, another child succumbed at the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital. The child had a high fever when he was brought in and after several check-ups by the nurses, the parents were advised to seek help at a private hospital. The parents were unable to afford fees at a private hospital. On the same day, the child died.

“While at the hospital, it was evident healthcare professionals had no business caring for my sick child. We could see them on their phones. My child was on bed Number 5 at the hospital and was the fifth to die. There is now a gap in my heart, which remains after losing my child. I have just buried one of my two daughters and I’m trying to communicate this new change to the remaining sibling while also healing my own wound,” shares the parent, James Karissa (not his real name)

The Health Policy 2014-2030 gives directions to ensure significant improvement in overall status of health in Kenya in line with the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which aims to attain the highest standard of health in a responsive manner to the needs of the Kenyan population. The Constitution also provides the overarching legal frameworks to ensure a comprehensive rights based-approach to health services delivery. In addition, the Health Act 2017 formalises collaborations between national and county governments, obliging Kenya to address the health needs of vulnerable groups, and mandates the provision of emergency and specialised care.

On March 14, 2024, Kenyan doctors began a strike accusing the government of failing to implement a raft of promises from a collective bargaining agreement signed in 2017 after a 100-day strike. And to date, the doctors have confirmed that they will not go back to work until their demands are met.

In response to this, Members of the Coast Civil Societies Network have stepped forward to rebuke this act of rebellion, which is costing, especially citizens from poor backgrounds who are most dependent on the public health facilities.

Find a solution

“We have seen the lack of seriousness in the political class, we have not seen proper address by the Ministry of Health on this matter. Health is a devolved issue, notwithstanding the issues that they have with devolution of the entire health segment. Health remains a devolved issue and the counsel and all the governors involved cannot keep quiet. They have to sit down and find a solution to this challenge, they must call doctors and those involved. We can’t continue losing lives. It is improper and an injustice against the poor,” shares the Chairman of the Network, Zedekiah Adika.

Adika called on involved authorities to come together and address the issue with the urgency it deserves.

Speaking on the same, Doris Ojiambo, Programmes Officer at Collaboration of Women in Development -the Health and Gender Thematic Lead- appealed to the government to intervene on the situation.

“We can confirm that residents of Mombasa cannot access the public health facilities and have to go to private facilities, which is also a burden because most of them cannot afford. From our observation and monitoring all the sub counties, there is proof of lives lost, and these are just the cases that we have got from our research, there are more that we don’t know about. So, this is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed,” shares Ojiambo.

In addition to this, Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri)’s Programmes Manager, Fredrick Okado, called on the president to pay urgent attention to this issue of doctors’ strike once and for all, because it is not a new issue.

 “In 2017 there were agreements that were reached upon between the doctors and the government, and the doctors up to now are waiting for their expectations to be met. Secondly, we are looking at the Ministry of Health because they have not stepped forward to address this issue, and thirdly, we are also looking at the governors and county governments that have not adhered to the agreements. We are calling upon the involved bodies to urgently step up because it is the common mwananchi  who is suffering the most right now,” he says.

Grief and self blame

According to Beatrice Nderitu, a sociologist, when a family loses a family member at a time like this because of lack of doctor’s attention, it is not easy to heal from that would.

“One is left with so many ‘what ifs.’ What if the doctors were not on strike? What if we had enough money to seek treatment at a private hospital…? Sometimes, one may feel guilty that they didn’t do enough and even blame themselves for such a death,” she explains.

The loss of a loved one or a close friend, she says, can be emotionally devastating and healing from the trauma requires adequate time.  “Ultimately, grief can be a really transformative experience; it can change who you are as a person. So, the idea that it’s just something you move through, and then you come out of the other side the same as you were before, doesn’t really hold. But I would urge everyone going through loss following the doctors’ strike not to blame themselves. Allow yourself to grief and seek support from friends and relatives. If you are still overwhelmed, go for therapy,” she says in ending.

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