Kenya's health workers' strike imperil efforts to flatten COVID-19 curve

2021-01-13 14:05:31 GMT2021-01-13 22:05:31(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

NAIROBI, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- The industrial strike by Kenyan nurses and clinical officers that commenced in early December 2020 over remuneration and inadequate access to protective gear could jeopardize efforts to flatten COVID-19 infections and related deaths.

The country's public health facilities have been grappling with staffing challenges for more than a month since frontline workers downed their tools citing failure by their employer to honor a deal on improving terms of service.

The strike by nurses and clinical officers who are employed by county governments has paralyzed service provision in public health facilities that cater mainly to low-income patients.

Senior union officials acknowledged the negative impact of a prolonged health care workers strike on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when the government had eased containment measures including the full reopening of schools.

George Gibore, secretary-general of Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO), said that the absence of frontline healthcare workers in public hospitals could undermine response to a pandemic that has taken a heavy toll on livelihoods.

"The strike by critical health care providers like nurses and clinical officers could worsen the COVID-19 crisis in the country," Gibore told local television on Wednesday.

"Nevertheless, dialogue among key stakeholders like the national and county governments as well as unions is urgently required to break the impasse and stabilize operations in public health facilities," he added.

Gibore said that frontline health workers were at higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 hence the need to provide them with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said that clinicians on the frontline of combating the pandemic deserved a risk allowance, an insurance scheme and compensation in case they were infected or succumbed to the virus.

"COVID-19 remains a threat to healthcare workers yet they are critical in its containment through provision of testing, contact tracing and management of the disease," said Gibore.

More than 2,000 Kenyan healthcare workers have tested positive to COVID-19 and dozens have succumbed to the disease since the first case was reported in the country in mid-March, 2020.

Seth Panyako, secretary general, Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) said that frontline health workers are willing to resume duty upon the availability of a comprehensive medical cover, protective gear and risk allowance.

"We appeal to the devolved units which employ the bulk of nurses in public health facilities to honor the return to work agreement that lay emphasis on improved remuneration and enhanced protection from COVID-19 risk," said Panyako during a live interview at a local television station.

He said that 34 nurses had succumbed to COVID-19 while on duty adding that the provision of quality protective gear is key to minimize infections.

Panyako said that nurses who comprise 80 percent of workers in Kenya's healthcare system have been instrumental in the implementation of COVID-19 containment measures like hygiene education, testing and contact tracing.

Kenya's COVID-19 caseload reached 98,432 on Tuesday while the number of people who succumbed to the disease rose to 1,716 amid optimism the country was on course to flatten the curve as the positivity rate hovered around 3.5 percent in the last two weeks.

Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary for health said in early January that the national government was committed to ending the industrial strike by frontline health workers to minimize disruptions in the COVID-19 response. Enditem