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Doctors’ union leader who has never shied away from a good fight

Frederick Ouma Oluga. ILLUSTRATION BY STANSLAUS MANTHI
Frederick Ouma Oluga. ILLUSTRATION BY STANSLAUS MANTHI 

The last 76 days have been the darkest two months in the country’s public health sector history. Operations in public hospitals have ground to a halt, with the sick now forced to writhe in pain at home.

The only recourse for those who can afford higher treatment costs, or even afford to rally friends and relatives for impromptu fund-raisers, has been private hospitals. But this avenue is also fast closing as the medics in those institutions joined their colleagues on a 48-hour service blackout in a bid to force the government into negotiations.

About 5,500 doctors, who are members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMDPU), are taking part in the strike demanding the implementation of their June 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The Employment and Labour Relations Court termed the agreement as null and void and ordered KMDPU leadership to call off the strike that has led to several deaths and untold suffering of patients.

But this did not water down their resolve to push for its implementation and on Monday the same court sentenced the union leaders to one month in jail for contempt of court.

Behind this defiance no name has rung louder and dominated the headlines like that of the union’s secretary-general Dr Frederick Ouma Oluga. He is the man mandated to call of the strike.

When things fell apart on December 5, 2016, most observers probably figured that with “government intimidation” the striking doctors would go back to work within no time. 

But in Dr Oluga, the government, which has ended many industrial actions using this tactic, it appears has finally met its match.

Remarkable track record

To understand why the union is hell bent on getting its way by any means one only has to look back at the life of Dr Oluga. He has fought for rights, whatever her perceives them to be, through out his education and now career life.

Born in 1985 in Rarieda constituency, Siaya, the doctor, in his mid thirties, has a remarkable track record of achievements.

He sat his Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination at Okela Primary School in 1998, joined Maranda High School (1999–2002) and thereafter Moi University where he graduated with an MBChB degree.

He was part of a Fellowship in Monitoring and Evaluation (Health) from the University of Nairobi and holds a post-graduate certificate in Infectious Diseases from the Infectious Diseases Institute - Makerere University.

He is currently undertaking a Masters degree in Medicine - Internal Medicine - from the University of Nairobi.

Throughout his undergraduate and post graduate studies, Dr Oluga has been an ardent advocate for public health reforms and universal health coverage, managing to galvanise the unity of doctors for sector reforms.

He is keen on healthcare leadership and governance, public health policy and human resources for health management and youth employment.

Besides being the union leader since 2014, he has worked in the department of internal medicine in Vihiga County since July 2012.

He is also a teacher of both clinical officer interns and medical officer interns in the region and runs the diabetic and an outpatient clinic.

Dr Oluga also oversees the HIV comprehensive Care Clinic working directly with donor partners to monitor and evaluate various aspects of the programme.

He had a short stint as a medical officer at the six-bed intensive care unit at the Kijabe Mission Hospital from January to June 2012. He acquired some of his medical practice experience under the world’s best physicians in America where he worked as a medical doctor intern for slightly over a year from January 2011.

He was also an advocate on women issues at Women Deliver organisation for one year from 2010.

His advocacy started when he was endorsed as the president of Medical Students Association of Kenya from January 2009 to November 2010 and chairman of the Medical Students Association of Moi University during the same period.

During his tenure he organised international conferences and workshops for medical students in Kenya to increase government and society involvement in specific health issues, for instance, reproductive healthcare.

Suffered injuries

As a medical student leader, Dr Oluga led major medical students’ activities including medical missions, blood donations, vaccination drives and health advocacy.

In his many fights, he has even suffered physical injuries, but they have not stopped his march.

He lost his father at a tender age. Even after being released from prison mid this week by the Court of Appeal, Dr Oluga maintains that jailing doctors will not bring resolution to the matter.

He believes that doctors will remain a scarce resource in Kenya if key issues such as training and remuneration of specialists and interns, provision of equipment and ensuring a good working environment are not addressed.

“Doctors in the public sector are poorly paid. The end result is that most only work for the government to fulfil their internship requirements while keeping their eye on Australia, the US, United Kingdom, or South Africa as their next destination,” he admits.

He may be an unapologetic union leader, but in him is a soft man – who enjoys a cold soft drink on a chilly evening.

He may be like Moses of the Israelites, chosen to deliver the children of Israel into Canaan, but will he really reach there? His story and that of his fellow leaders in the union is still unfolding.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to remove previous references that were not verifiable by the Business Daily.