Wednesday’s release of seven Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union officials from jail is a welcome development in the unfortunate labour dispute that has paralysed Kenya’s primary healthcare system for nearly three months. The officials, who had been jailed for contempt of court, are now out and able to negotiate a return to work formula. Kenyans can only hope that the protagonists in this dispute will seek a solution that gets the doctors back to hospitals as soon as is possible.
We cannot, 75 five days into a strike, sit pretty arguing about processes and who should negotiate. It has become clear that a solution will only come if both sides climb down from their hardline positions, keeping in mind the suffering of the sick. To unlock this impasse, the State will have to recognise that doctors are right to demand proper equipment and provisions to effectively perform their duties. For nothing is more demoralising to a doctor than to watch a patient die for lack of simple supplies. The doctors, on their part must understand that collapse of health infrastructure cannot be repaired overnight, and certainly not at gunpoint.
Their negotiating position should include a phased approach to improvement of health infrastructure, with realistic targets and timelines. Ultimately, the most vulnerable of Kenyans are the ones who have had to suffer lack of care, not just for 75 five days, but for 50 years and more. Let’s end this painful strike.