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State dangles Sh6.3b to avert medics’ strike

By Bernard Gitau
Friday, December 4th, 2020
Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui during a press conference at the ministry’s headquarters over the impending health workers strike. Photo/PD/BENARD ORWONGO
In summary

The government yesterday moved to forestall the planned health workers strike by offering them Sh6.3 billion comprehensive insurance cover and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) worth Sh3 billion.

The government has also directed the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) to work out a comprehensive medical scheme to all public servants, including health workers employed by the national government.

It also urged county governments to act swiftly and formulate a similar scheme for health workers employed by the devolved units.

Measures were announced yesterday following a meeting between Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui and officials of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) and Kenya Union of Clinical Officers to avert a nationwide strike set to commence on Monday.

Speaking after the meeting, Chelugui asked the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) to release PPEs worth Sh3 billion, which are lying in their warehouse to protect healthcare workers from contracting the virus.

National insurer on its part has been engaged to provide medical cover for the frontline workers, he said.

“The government has engaged NHIF to offer a comprehensive medical scheme for all public servants including the health workers working in the national government,” said Chelugui.

Chelugui was speaking during a second day meeting with union officials and the Ministry of Health, led by Principal Secretary Susan Mochache, though no consensus was arrived.

Mochache explained the comprehensive cover will cushion health workers and all public servants and would cater for coronavirus expenses and burials.

Health care workers’ grievances range from health insurance, personal protective equipment, promotions, risk allowances, compensation to deceased family and  hiring of more staff.

“We urge various county governments to expedite the implementation of the comprehensive medical cover for health workers through NHIF,” said Mochache.

Knun Secretary General Seth Panyako issued a 14-day strike notice on November 23. It lapses on December 7.

Other demands

Nurses are demanding immediate compensation of families of more than 18 nurses who have succumbed to Covid-19.

 Other demands include payment of Sh30,000 risk allowance, confirmation of contract nurses to permanent and pensionable terms and free comprehensive medical cover for all ailments including Covid-19.

Doctors union issued a 21-day strike notice on November 15, and is expected to lapse on December 6 should the government fail to act, while clinicians issued their 14 days’ notice on November 22.

 Acting KMPDU Secretary General Chibanzi Mwachonda, said at least 25 out of 2,200 doctors infected have succumbed to the disease, including 10  senior specialists.

 On the matter of PPEs, Mochache gave a rider that there are processes going on before the directive is actualised.

 “There are investigations on Kemsa Covid-19 products, but the National Assembly, Senate and Ministry of health have given the nod for their release. The matter is also before Cabinet for deliberations,” she said.

Chelugui pleaded with health workers to drop their grandstanding and call off their strike as a sign of patriotism.

“At the centre of the strike calls, there are a number of demands, many of which require a multi/sectoral approach if they are to be effectively addressed,” said Chelugui.

He said to adequately address the issues; the government requires enough time and cooperation to deal with immediate demands while others will be addressed in a phased manner.

On his part, former KMPDU Secretary General Ouma Oluga, who is now the Chief Health Officer at the Nairobi Metropolitan Services urged healthcare workers to give dialogue a chance.