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Health & Fitness

Health worker groups must fight sector graft

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Activist doctors have saved situations, including corruption. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

There is furore about looting in Kenya that is increasingly depleting the public coffers. A lot of this is happening through infrastructure and equipment purchases.

In a nutshell, the purchases are for no reason other than to allow expenditure and release of cash. Equipment bought is often substandard, overpriced or in some cases totally useless, while the infrastructure was not ideal.

While health care has been safe from corruption for a long time, cartels are now slowly becoming rampant. In a now all familiar script, tenderpreneurs infiltrate hospital procurement departments to do shady business.

The end result is that patient safety and health outcomes are compromised. For instance, where medical equipment is bought at Sh5 million yet Sh2 million is the retail price. This means other equipment or medicine worth Sh2 million that could have served patients is not bought. Should doctors in that hospital keep quiet? Somewhere down the road, this misappropriation catches up with their clinical practice.

Last week, a social media video by a young doctor lamenting about corruption in his county triggered a debate on the role health workers should play in the fight against corruption. The rise of “activist doctors” is not something new, across history physicians have taken active roles in being patients’ social voices.

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An ethical dilemma, however, is whether this is related to our jobs as doctors. Depending on which side one sits on, it is either an overstep or our mandate.

One group goes as far ahead as to state that, “corruption is the leading cause of mortality in Kenya”. Indirectly everything is linked to it.

Because such individual voices cannot be heard clearly by those in leadership, the opportunity accorded by organised health worker groups should be used to fight corruption cartels.

Where individuals fear, organised groups cannot be ruffled. We need to formalise this anti-corruption war to ensure longevity and deindividuation of such initiatives.

Lobbies like the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), the Kenya Medical Association (KMA), the Clinical Officers or Kenya National Nurses Union need to pay attention here.

Their roles must shift to address externalities of their members’ unemployment and poor working conditions. If not, then they have erred in not including it in their agenda.

Often, we are on the forefront of complaints from patients who are unable to fathom root causes of understaffing, lack of diagnostic tools and medicines in our hospitals.

Politics is medicine and medicine is politics on a social scale.

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