Furore in Kenya 'threatens' safety of Tanzanian medics

20Mar 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Furore in Kenya 'threatens' safety of Tanzanian medics
  • Doctors in the neighbouring country have promised a 'hostile' reception for 500 Tanzanian colleagues set to be recruited to ease shortages of medical practitioners in Kenya

THERE are growing concerns over the safety of a group of 500 Tanzanian doctors to be sent to Kenya to help overcome the effects of a strike in public hospitals there.

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President John Magufuli agreed to make the medics available on Saturday following a request from his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta, saying "Kenya's problems are Tanzania's problems."

But a large section of the medical fraternity in the neighbouring country have responded by strongly hinting that the Tanzanian doctors can expect a hostile reception.

Tension is rising in Kenya ahead of a general election scheduled for August this year, with Kenyatta under pressure to ease an ongoing shortage of doctors in the country’s health system.

This has triggered fears that the Tanzanian doctors could be thrown into the middle of Kenya’s often violent political process and aggressive trade union movement.

Immediately after news of Tanzania's 'kind gesture' became public, Kenya’s social media networks became inundated with both overt and covert warnings to Tanzanian medics to not even think about going to Kenya.

However, the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, the Elderly and Children yesterday sought to allay the fears and concerns.

Health ministry spokesman Nsachris Mwamwaja told The Guardian: “President Magufuli has been assured that the Tanzanian doctors will be protected at all times while in Kenya.”

On Saturday, the secretary general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists' Union (KMPDU), Ouma Oluga, criticised the government's decision to hire Tanzanian doctors, saying Kenya has many unemployed doctors.

"Kenya has about 1,400 doctors awaiting employment. It would be very costly and therefore a show of imprudent public finance management to have 500 Tanzania doctors at 20,000 Kenyan shillings (430,000 Tanzanian shillings) per day," he said.

Oluga said KMPDU is only willing to accept the Tanzanian medics if they undergo rigorous procedures including pre-registration examinations by the Kenyan medical board.

"That would take not less than three months unless that regulation is disregarded... we can't keep experimenting with the lives of Kenyans as if we don't value them," he said.

Although Kenyan doctors ended their 100-day strike on Tuesday last week, most of them have still not returned to work.

The Kenyan medics wanted a 300 per cent pay rise and better working conditions.

Andrew Suleh is among medical practitioners in Nairobi who have been very vocal in opposing the planned recruitment of Tanzanian doctors.

Suleh, who is also the board chairman of Kenya’s non-profit Health Rights Advocacy Forum (HERAF), said in a twitter message:

"The mere thought of getting the lowly-rated Tanzanian doctors to work here is the worst insult to our intelligence."

In a series of other tweets, the same Kenyan doctor queried if the "500 doctors from Tanzania coming here could be just soothsayers coming for the 2017 general elections."

He also criticised Tanzania for sending doctors to Kenya despite its own shortage of medical practitioners.

Tanzania, with a population of around 50 million, has an estimated 2,250 medical doctors, according to 2013 estimates, which means that it has a national shortage of around 2,700 doctors based on the recommended doctor-patient ratio of 1:10,000.

The dire situation caused by the doctors' strike in Kenya, which has reportedly led to several patient deaths in public hospitals, has threatened to undermine Kenyatta's bid for a second presidential term in the August poll, analysts say.

Magufuli said on Saturday he had personally approved Kenyatta's request after reassurances from the Kenyan government that the Tanzanian doctors would be given adequate salaries and perks such as housing.

According to health minister Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania has many qualified medical doctors who are currently unemployed, including recent graduates who have completed their internships.

Reacting to the government’s plan to export doctors to Kenya, Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) president Dr Obadia Nyongole also suggested that it would be wiser to address the shortage of doctors “in our country's own medical centres” first.

According to Nyongole, 52 per cent of Tanzania's medical centres face a shortage of doctors. In some regions, up to 80 per cent of hospitals have a serious shortage of doctors.

A research conducted last year concluded that the Tanzania is producing more medical doctors than the government can employ in its public health system.

In the period between 2000 and 2010, over 2,200 doctors graduated from medical schools, but more than half of them could not secure jobs in hospitals, the research findings said.

Another study conducted by the Dar es Salaam-based non-governmental organisation Sikika and MAT in 2013 established that almost all healthcare facilities in the country faced a critical shortage of medical doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians.

In another development, the opposition National Super Alliance of Kenya (NASA) warned yesterday that it would reject the Kenyatta government’s plan to hire doctors from Tanzania.

The opposition team issued the warning at a joint political rally led by NASA co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Bungoma senator Moses Wetangula.

Kakamega senator Bonny Khalwawe’s was the first to raise the issue of the Tanzanian doctors, saying NASA will contest the importation of doctors until the government settles Kenyan doctors’ pay issues.

“We have a stake in this government and the Jubilee government cannot pretend to love the citizens of this country by importing doctors without settling what is ailing its doctors at home,” said Khalwale.

Meanwhile, Kenyan State House spokesperson Manoah Esipisu yesterday denied claims that there are 1,400 jobless doctors in the country.

He said doctors are the only cadre of professionals that are posted directly to hospitals from college.