More than 100 patients on Monday escaped from the Mathari Mental Hospital in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, during the ongoing strike by 5 000 doctors, clinicians, pharmacist, dentists and other health professionals.
The countrywide strike that has affected more than 2 700 public health facilities in Kenya. Healthcare professionals have warned Kenyans to brace themselves for the longest strike ever.
Eyewitnesses said they saw patients jumping over the hospital perimeter fence.
Police said they had been alerted of the escapes. Some of the mentally challenged patients had been tracked down and picked up, but police did not say where they had taken them to.
The members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union, all working for government and county hospitals, said they would not relent this time until all their demands were met.
However, health cabinet secretary Cleopa Mailu said the strike notice by Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) and Kenya Medical Practitioners and Pharmacists Union (KMPDU) was premature.
Mailu said the court had given medics and the state 90 days to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, so there was still time for dialogue.
Medic union representatives have also refused to honour a Sunday night meeting called by the government.
The health ministry, Treasury, Council of Governors and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) have held a meeting to try and resolve the salary disputes that led to the strike.
The SRC boss Sarah Serem presented a review of the salary scale for health workers, which Treasury said can only be implemented incrementally.
Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Doctors Union (KMPPDU) chairperson Samuel Osoro said the medics would continue with their strike until government meets their demands.
Speaking to colleagues at the Railways Club, Osoro said they were tired of dialogue and that it was now time for action and warned the government against taking legal action, warning that this would only worsen the situation.
The healthcare professionals are demanding a 300% salary increment as stipulated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2013.
The medics, who marched to the Treasury Building in Nairobi wearing lab coats and carrying sacks, said they wanted the government to pay them “the same way it paid out millions of dollars to crooks in fraudulent tenders”.
They said they carried the sacks in order for the government to “fill them with their salary arrears” dating back to 2013.
Doctors are demanding a 300% pay increase, while nurses want a raise of 25% to 40% as well as allowances.
If the doctors have their way, the highest paid doctor will earn more than Ksh 940 000 (US$ 9400) and the lowest Ksh 342,000 (US$3420). Currently the highest paid medic gets KSh500,000 (US$5000) and the lowest gets Sh40 000 (US$400).