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Let us focus on nurses now that polls are over

Kenya National Union of Nurses Kisii branch members demonstrate last month. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Kenya National Union of Nurses Kisii branch members demonstrate last month. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Lost in this year’s election campaigns was the fact that government-employed nurses have been on the streets demanding better compensation and improved terms in their workplaces for three months.

With the electioneering behind us, let us return focus to the embarrassment that our public hospitals have been closed for this entire politicking duration.

During this time, a majority of Kenyans have been forced to seek care in private health facilities at great economic cost for already impoverished families, which rely on public healthcare. This especially for patients with chronic and debilitating conditions warranting hospitalisation.

As currently structured, nurses staff all dispensaries and also form more than 85 per cent of all health centres’ workforce. At the level four or sub-county and level five county facilities, they still form the bulk of the employees averaging 65 per cent. This according to the Kenya Nursing Workforce 2012 Report.

Their numbers though are not up to the desired levels and this is part of the grievance being voiced since it leads to uncompensated extra work hours. According to a 2014 Human Resource for Healthcare publication on Kenya, the recommended 2.5 health workers per 1000 citizens is not being met. Kenya’s nursing shortage was reported then as varying between 1.2-0.08 per 1000 depending on which county one looked at.

Though a critical component of healthcare delivery, the media’s reporting of the strike has been disheartening. Either the mortalities have been fewer than during the doctors’ strike or they have not been highlighted.

For rural communities in particular, the strike’s impact has been devastating because unlike cities, they lack vibrant inpatient private health facilities to offer an outlet of demand. Some of the core activities nurses here handle include immunisation of children, provision of contraceptive services, antenatal clinics for pregnant women and birth of babies. During the strike these have ground to a halt.

Immunisations in particular are scheduled on strict timelines and are critical for the healthy start of babies’ early lives. Safe deliveries conducted under skilled attendance have also suffered. Of interest is the question of how high healthcare ranked in the voters choice of candidates in the just ended election.

Most blueprints for county strategic health plans and national surveys like the 2012 Kenya Nursing Workforce Report recommend improving the nurses: patient ratios for better healthcare. The financial projections show that to add just 20 nurses annually to a county’s workforce needs about Sh15 million to keep abreast with the current population growth without factoring in the shortages existing.

Citizens must now demand that the government solves the impasse expeditiously to avoid further loss of life. What the national government needs to do is accept that without extra allocations to the devolved units, the nurses demands are not going to be met within current county budgetary allocations.

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