Kenya deployed army doctors on Friday to the country’s main teaching and referral hospital where the last remaining doctors joined a five-day strike that has crippled healthcare services around the country.
“Our doctors are already at the hospital to help needy cases,” said military spokesman Paul Njuguna. “It is within our mandate and that is why we stepped in.”
The strike for better pay has seen thousands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers walk off the job since Monday, leaving scenes of chaos as patients were stranded in hospital wards or forced to go to expensive private clinics.
As the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi is a key referral hospital, some 300 doctors had remained on duty until Friday when they too joined the strike.
Patients requiring emergency care went unattended as they lay on stretchers at the hospital.
“We are looking for an ambulance to take the patient to a private hospital, he got in an accident and we rushed him here but there is no one to attend to him,” said Jackson Mwangi, a relative of one of the patients.
“I am told there are doctors from the military but the queue is too long to get in and there is a lot of confusion.”
Mary Mueni who had come to see her sister, a cancer patient, said that deploying the army was not a solution to the crisis.
“Let the government pay doctors for a permanent solution,” she said.
Unions are demanding a 300-percent pay rise for doctors and 25- to 40-percent pay rises for nurses that they say was agreed in a 2013 collective bargaining agreement, but has yet to be implemented.
Several rounds of talks have collapsed and the main doctor’s union has said that private hospitals would join the strike next Tuesday.
A judge has ordered union officials to appear in court next Tuesday, threatening them with jail for disobeying a court order to call off the strike.
Judge Hellen Wasiliwa said that if they did not show up she would order their arrest.