Govt to send 500 doctors to Kenya despite local shortage

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 United Nations standards.

Kenya's doctors went on strike in public hospitals on December 5 last year, demanding better pay and working conditions.

A deal struck this week between the Kenyan government and doctors opened the way to negotiations to end the strike, but many doctors are still not back to work.

The strike means that many public hospitals in Kenya, already stretched for cash and medical equipment, have had to turn away some patients.

The dire situation of the doctors' strike, which has reportedly caused the deaths of several patients at public hospitals, has threatened to undermine Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's bid for a second term in the country's presidential election in August, analysts said.

But in a seemingly "love thy neighbour" gesture, President John Magufuli yesterday approved Kenyatta's request for more doctors after he met Kenya's health minister, Cleopas Mailu, and his delegation at State House in Dar es Salaam.

"Tanzania has accepted Kenya's request for 500 doctors to help the country deal with a shortage of doctors at its medical centres following a doctors' strike," State House said in a statement.

"Kenya's problems are Tanzania's problems ... We will give them 500 doctors so they can go and provide medical services to our brothers and sisters in Kenya," Magufuli said yesterday.

Magufuli said he personally approved the request after reassurances from the Kenyan government that the Tanzanian doctors would be given adequate remunerations, which includes salaries and housing.

The Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu, said Tanzania has "many qualified medical doctors who are currently unemployed, which includes recent graduates."

The situation in Kenya remains desperate, with public hospitals still lacking doctors.

On Friday, there were only two doctors on duty at the Kenyatta National Hospital, the biggest public hospital in Kenya, a nurse told a Reuters reporter.

"We can give you some pain relief but it will be a long time before you see a doctor," the nurse cautioned a bleeding, screaming car accident victim as hospital staff inspected a deep cut to her leg in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Reacting to Tanzania's generosity towards Kenya, the president of the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT), Dr Obadia Nyongole, told The Guardian on Sunday that his association is happy with the government's decision to send Tanzanian doctors to Kenya.

However, Nyongole reminded the Tanzanian government to recruit new doctors for public hospitals in order to address a shortage of doctors in our country's own medical centres.

According to the MAT president, on average, some 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.

“We call up on the (Tanzanian) government to employ more doctors in order to address the existing shortage of doctors in the country and bring relief to patients,” Nyongole said.

He revealed that despite the existing shortage of doctors in public hospitals due to a lack of funds by the government to employ new medics, there is a total of 1,794 medical doctors in Tanzania who are currently without a job for two years now since their graduation from medical colleges.

“It is a good step by the government to agree to send 500 doctors to Kenya as this move will help to address the current unemployment problems of local doctors,” he said.

"However, our doctors are ready to go to Kenya provided that the strike by doctors there is over."

Tanzania's health ministry yesterday quickly issued a public notice inviting local doctors to apply for the opportunity to go and work in Kenya.

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

The study uncovered that over 60 per cent of medical graduates in Tanzania who were trained locally and abroad have not been employed by the government.

In a period of ten years up to 2010, over 2,200 doctors graduated from medical schools, but over 1,100 were not working in hospitals.

While some medical doctors are unemployed, others have changed professions and opted to work for non-governmental orgasations (NGOs) and research institutions due to poor pay and unfriendly working conditions in the country's hospitals.

Another research conducted by a Dar es Salaam-based NGO, Sikika, and the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) in 2013 established that almost all healthcare facilities in Tanzania faced a critical shortage of medical doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians.

The report titled "Where are the doctors?" said Tanzania has just 1 medical doctor for every 20,000 people, which is way below the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended minimum doctor-patient ratio of 1:10,000.

"The fact that 39.6 per cent of the tracked medical doctors are not practising clinical medicine is an indication that there is a serious human resources problem in the medical field," said the study.