Worries over rising cases of suicide among health workers
In early October, the body of 31-year-old medical doctor Esther Waceke Munyua was found in her house in Langata. Next to the body were empty cans of alcohol, some medicine and a suicide note that stated “depression is real”.
The police said the medic, who worked at St Mary’s Hospital, was alone at the time of the incident on September 28.
Last year another medical officer working at a mission hospital in Kisumu, who was accused of defiling an eight-year-old child, died by suicide.
The body of Bonface Mongare was found dangling from a rope in his house by his colleagues after he failed to report to work.
In another case reported in Nakuru in September last year, a doctor reportedly killed his two children, attempted to commit suicide and died while undergoing treatment at the Nakuru Level 5 Hospital.
James Gakara, who was an obstetrician at Optimum Current Hospital, was suspected to have injected his children with a poisonous substance as assorted drugs, used syringes and a kitchen knife were found at the scene.
The above cases sum up the growing cases of suicide among health workers, amid reports that at least four clinical officers have committed suicide in various parts of the country within the last three months due to work-related stress and welfare challenges, according to Kenya Clinical Officers Association (KCOA).
Addressing the press on the sidelines of the KCOA Annual Scientific Conference in Mombasa, Kenya Clinical Officers Association Secretary General Joseph Chebii said health care workers were taking their lives because a majority of them were ensnared in mental issues attributed to work stress, alcoholism and drug abuse.
“We call upon the government and other stakeholders to address this issue because we see that this issue may take the lives of many of the workforce. In the past three months, we have buried four of our members in the clinical medicine,” he said.
Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) chairman Peterson Wachira said the suicide cases is a testament to growing concerns of the deep rooted welfare problems that have haunted the health workers in the past 10 years.
“The recent cases of suicide is a clear indication that there is a deep rooted problem within the healthcare workers that has persisted since devolution… that is more than 10-years,” said Wachira.
As a result, the healthcare professionals are now calling on the government to form a taskforce on health to look into the problems in the sector and recommend solutions.
“In the same way we have seen the President gazette a taskforce on the education sector, it is important that he forms a taskforce to look into issues affecting the healthcare workers and come up with solutions,” he said.
In the last one decade, according to the officers, the country has had more than 100 health workers’ strikes among other challenges which remain unresolved.
“For instance, there is no framework to transfer a health worker from one county to another. We don’t even have a framework on how health workers can be employed annually so that they can be employed commensurate to the population,” the Chairman said.
According to Chebii, most of the mental health issues among health workers are environment-related which can be solved by national and county governments through addressing health care workers’ grievances.
“We call upon employers at both county and national government level to address the issue of workers. Some are related to shortages and burnout because they work for long hours and others are related to the working environment. This thing needs a broader approach. It is a very big concern because we are getting reports that cases of mental health are going up and not only clinical officers but also other healthcare workers including medical officers and nurses. We are losing very productive members of this country,” said Chebii.
KUCO General Secretary George Gibore reminded the Kenya Kwanza administration of its campaign promise to employ 20,000 health care workers and create a health workers commission.
Gibore faulted the counties for establishing health care facilities without health care workers and drugs, noting that this is part of the problem.