The Kenyan Doctors union sued to block the government’s decision to hire Cuban doctors. Union attorneys argue that there plenty qualified medical professionals already in Kenya and that the government should offer jobs to Kenyan doctors first. The Employment and Labour Relations Court disagreed. In its ruling on Tuesday, the court said there is no proof that doctors’ rights have been infringed by the decision to hire Cuban doctors.
But the doctors’ union says there are thousands of unemployed doctors and many of them are underpaid.
“There are 2,000 Kenyan doctors that require employment and 170 specialists … have not been deployed by the Ministry of health,” said Ouma Oluga, secretary general of Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU). “We do not understand why a government would be creating employment for another country and not their own.”
Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta agreed to the deal to hire Cuban doctors last year. The plan was accelerated after his state visit to Cuba in March.
The Kenyan Health Ministry estimates that not only is there a severe shortage of health workers in the country but many doctors in far-flung hospitals lack specialized skills. This forces patients to pay to travel to the capital Nairobi or abroad for treatment, the ministry says. The new Cuban surgeons, general practitioners and other specialists, depending on where they are placed, could help improve the quality of health care in remote areas of the country. According to state data, Kenya’s doctor-to-patient ratio is one to 16,000, that’s far below a recommendation of the U.N. World Health Organization of one to 1,000. The government says those stats justify the need to hire more doctors from abroad.
It is also possible Kenyan leaders want to do something to reduce frequent work stoppages by medical professionals that negatively impact the quality of health services in the country.
In the last two years Kenyan nurses have gone on strike three times, with the latest one lasting five whole months.
Last year, doctors in the country held a 100-day strike, the longest the country has ever experienced.
These industrial actions have continuously paralysed services in thousands of public facilities, leaving patients who cannot afford private care, stranded.
Last year the government granted doctors a pay rise promised in 2013 after the strike.
The doctors are expected to arrive in June and each county should get at least two. They will work in a country where medical provision is split between central government and 47 county governments.
The treasury has allocated close to $10 million USD to pay for salaries and other costs of bringing in the Cuban doctors.
Oluga said KMPDU will not interfere with the government plan of importing doctors.
“If the Kenyan government wants to bring Cuban doctors, that’s up to them,” he said.