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Kenyan Doctors End Strike; Will Government Honor Its Commitments?

A strike by the nation’s largest doctors union, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), was called off yesterday, after 56 days, paving the way for over 5,000 physicians to return to work at government-run hospitals within 48 hours. While heartening, the agreement ending the strike was made under pressure of a court order and does not address 6 of the union’s 19 points in its original complaint, issued March 14, at the beginning of the strike. A major demand of the KMPDU, concerning the entry salary of new (replacement) interns, was tabled for another 30 days.

The Secretary General of the KMPDU, Davji Atellah, told the media: “We had a long meeting today with [the union’s] National Advisory Council ... and they endorsed that we sign this return-to-work formula today so that it can pave the way for doctors to return to work within 24 hours from now. We have decided to take the [government’s] promise for the last time,” he said, even though “one of the fundamental issues— that is of doctor interns— is still pending.”

This issue regarding intern (new doctors) pay has been “unresolved” now for seven years, since the last time Kenyan doctors struck. Finally reaching the limits of toleration, after years of government foot-dragging (as well as feeling the additional effects of inflation and increased government austerity), the KMPDU chose to strike on March 13. As part of its current austerity program, the Ruto government was attempting to cut doctors’ salaries— at public hospitals and clinics, serving the majority of the country— by an unconscionable two-thirds, a 67% cut. The new agreement restores compensation to its original, Sh206,000 monthly level, with the government reportedly setting aside Sh6.1 billion for payment.

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