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Medics strike, funds misuse threaten pandemic war

By Gathu Kaara
Monday, August 10th, 2020 00:00 | 3 mins read
A doctor gets specimen for Covid-19 test. Photo/PD/File

There are two crises stalking the fight against Covid-19 in Kenya, and threatening to derail it if not resolved urgently.

One is the growing industrial unrest among healthcare workers, and the second is the growing outrage over fraudulent use of Covid funds.

The growing industrial unrest among health workers will derail the fight against the pandemic if not arrested immediately.

All the gains that have been made in terms of growing recovered patients, keeping deaths as low as possible, and preparing for the expected peak in September will all be lost.

Already, health workers in Kisumu, Homa Bay, Kisii, Siaya and Mandera are either on strike, or have issued notice to down their tools.

The medics are justifiably exasperated at the seeming shockingly cavalier attitude towards their protection and welfare, when they are putting their lives on the line every day-literally- as they engage with Covid-19 patients. It’s not a joke.

Over 720 health workers are reported to have contracted the coronavirus, and 11 have died of the disease. 

Their grievances range from delayed salaries and allowances, health insurance, promotions, poor protection through lack of, or provision of substandard or inadequate, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) among others.

This crisis is set to be exacerbated, as the national health workers unions have issued a notice for a general strike, unless the grievances of their members countrywide are resolved.

This issue falls squarely on the lap of governors, as health is a devolved function.

Governors do not have any other priority now apart from flattening the Covid-19 infection curve.

This is because no county, and indeed, the country, can resume business again fully until Covid-19 has been contained. 

The battle against Covid-19 will be won and lost in the counties. Governors only need to look at Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale, to see how the battle against Covid-19 really depends on their personal leadership, and that the curve can be flattened.

Governors must address the grievances of their health workers immediately.

It is unthinkable that governors have allowed things to deteriorate to this level.

What have they been doing? All counties received money from the national Government consisting of Treasury funds, as well as a share from the World Bank Covid-19 emergency loans.

No wonder huge questions are being asked about the use to which the Covid-19 billions have been put.

This brings us to the second looming crisis. Kenyans have been treated to a growing litany on how the Covid-19 funds have been misused.

This issue was brought into stark relief when one of the country’s top public servants, Macharia Kamau, the Foreign Affairs PS, issued a scathing attack on the government’s response to the pandemic.

Macharia, who previously viciously attacked critics of the Government’s response to the pandemic, tested positive for Covid-19.

Macharia wondered what all the billions spent by the Government had achieved, stating that contact tracing had collapsed, there was nowhere for the public to go get tested, and there was no medical insurance against the disease.

Macharia was simply raising from the top echelons of Government what has become a major concern about how the billions that have been mobilised for the battle against the pandemic have been used.

To get to the bottom of this, the Senate ad-hoc committee on the pandemic wants a special audit conducted on Covid-19 billions.

The committee, led by nominated senator, Sylvia Kasanga Mueni, wants the Auditor-General to look into procurement and purchases by the Ministry of Health and its agencies.

The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) is being investigated by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission over its procurement and purchases of emergency Covid-19 supplies worth billions.

Money needs to be properly spent to flatten the curve, especially since the country is yet to hit its peak.

It is disheartening that the government is no longer carrying out critical functions because the money meant for the battle against the pandemic has been fraudulently used. This must be corrected immediately.  - [email protected]

Gathu Kaara

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