Imagine a country with a fragile healthcare system that lives with serious difficulties. Now, imagine nearly all of that country’s nurses decide to abandon their working places. Suddenly, in almost all public hospitals there are no nurses to care for patients. Can you imagine the chaos that would cause in your town, in your country? It would be bad in a developed country… What if it happened in a country with feeble infrastructures and healthcare services?
You don’t need to imagine it! It is happening right now in Kenya. That African country’s population is deprived of nursing care since the beginning of the month.
On June 5, the secretary-general of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) asked it’s associates to abandon their working places. He asked them to join a strike to fight for their labor rights. The government’s backing down regarding the signature of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was at the origin of the dispute. The CBA was part of a commitment between the government and the nurses to end a previous strike and protests on the streets last December.
Since the beginning of the strike, the government has been directly associating patient deaths in public hospitals with the lack of nursing care. The stories of Kenyans who saw themselves without healthcare assistance are countless and dramatic.
Winston Ong’alo’s story is particularly disturbing because he is a medical doctor who lost his 8-month son. On the third day of the nurses’ strike, his son got sick with malaria. The doctor took him to the ER of the hospital he works in, only to find it almost deserted due to the absence of nurses.
With the help of two other doctors, Ong’alo did everything he could to save his son’s life, but without adequate means to do it, his attempts were condemned to failure since the beginning. The striking nurses took the keys with them after locking up the supply rooms with important equipment and materials like drugs, oxygen tanks, and even gloves.
Although being through unimaginable suffering after having lost a son, Ong’alo doesn’t blame the nurses or their strike. He thinks the government is the responsible for this situation because it refuses to meet his co-workers’ demands.
The Kenyan doctors also launched a strike last December that lasted for about one hundred days. It was finally canceled when the government promised significant pay rises included in a collective bargaining agreement.
The increased mother to child transmission rate of HIV is one of many negative consequences of this strike with serious repercussions in the future. Several specialists have considered the nurses’ role in preventing this kind of HIV transmission as fundamental.
The nurses’ strike has been lasting for 20 days now, and the Kenyan people are suffering while the politicians who refuse to sign the CBA keep campaigning for the next elections as if nothing was going on in the country.
Clearly, there’s no end in sight for this strike, as the KNUN leaders already said that they will not cancel it nor will they renegotiate the CBA. On the government side, they accuse the nurses of leading an illegal strike and keep saying the country doesn’t have enough money to pay them.