Cuban doctors posted to counties bordering Somalia are leaving their stations in fear after their colleagues were kidnapped in Mandera and taken to Somalia.
At the weekend, the two specialists posted to Lamu and Tana River left in a huff as the government evacuated medics attached to Wajir and Garissa counties.
"It's true. The two Cuban doctors travelled out of Lamu abruptly over the weekend,” Lamu Health Executive Anne Gathoni told the Nation on Monday.
“The Mandera incident is really traumatising them and that's why they are seeking guidance and counselling. It's a matter under discussion on whether they will return to Lamu or not bearing in mind that our county also borders Somalia.”
The two, Dr Liliana Casos, an orthopaedic surgeon and Dr Denis Orozco, a family physician, were deployed to Lamu in July, 2018.
But Lamu County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri denied any link between the recall and the Mandera kidnap.
“Our doctors were only recalled for briefing and debrief. It’s a while they have been on the ground. I doubt if it has anything to do with Mandera which is miles away. It’s normal for field officers, including ourselves, to go to Nairobi for consultations from time to time,” said Mr Kanyiri.
Tana River County, which also borders the war-wracked Horn of Africa country, suffered a similar blow on Monday.
Tana River Deputy County Commissioner Michael Kioni confirmed to the Nation that Dr Oriol Valon Costa, a surgeon, and Dr Madelin Areas Hall, a family doctor, had been recalled to Nairobi.
He said the doctors felt unsafe to stay around.
"It is an order from above and part of security measures the state has taken to ensure all other doctors are safe, since it seems they are becoming a new target," he said.
Mr Kioni, however, said there was no cause for alarm because all security teams in the county were alert.
The health workers in Wajir and Garissa were evacuated following a national security advisory from the capital Nairobi.
Garissa police boss Aaron Morasae disclosed that the team from Garissa left on Saturday morning, and it was not clear when they would resume work.
The departure of the medics is likely to hurt service delivery in the affected counties, with patients expected to travel long distances to access specialised care.
In Tana River, the recall now leaves the county’s referral hospital in dire need of specialised services, with patients lined up for operation likely to be referred to Malindi or Mombasa.
Tana River residents expressed disappointment with the Mandera abductions and called on government to jealously protect the Cuban doctors.
"Our leaders should now donate their security for the Cuban doctors. There is no need of them having four security men in the city while two Cuban doctors are guarded by one police officer in a ‘battle field’”, said Mr Hussein Tambo, a resident.
Locals who talked to the Nation in Lamu expressed shock and disappointment over the move.
Mr Ahmed Khalifa said the arrival of the Cuban doctors was a new dawn for the health docket in the county.
“Referral cases had already been reduced by their presence. I hope the government will bring them back. This is a blow to us,” said Mr Khalifa.
Mrs Fatma Bule said they had high confidence in the Cuban medics.
“Mandera is far from Lamu and that (abduction) shouldn’t affect us. I call on the government to also boost security in our county so that we continue enjoying the Cuban doctors’ services,” said Mrs Bule
Dr Assel Herera Correa (a general physician) and Dr Landy Rodriguez (a surgeon) were abducted by armed assailants who ambushed and blocked the vehicle ferrying them to work in Mandera town.
One of the police officers guarding the medics was killed instantly while the another one escaped with injuries.
It was the second abduction of foreigners in five months by suspected Al-Shabaab militia who are linked to the Al-Qaeda terror group.
On Friday, Mandera Governor Ali Roba condemned the attack and appealed to the elders to initiate talks with their counterparts in Bulahawa and ensure that the two return to Kenya safely.
“We appeal to the security agencies to do whatever it takes to save the lives of our Cuban doctors and bring them back from captivity. I send my condolences to the family of the departed officer,” Roba said.
Mandera elders left for Somalia on Friday to negotiate with their counterparts the release of the two doctors.
Elders of the Somali community are highly regarded and have the ability to resolve dangerous and sometimes complex issues.
Reports by Kalume Kazungu, Stephen Oduor and Amina Wako.