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Medical sector in turmoil as interns storm Afya House, demand posting

By Moses Muli

Published: July 9,2024 11:01 AM(EAT)

Kenya’s healthcare system faces renewed crisis as hundreds of medical, dental, and pharmacy interns descended on the Ministry of Health headquarters Monday, demanding immediate posting of interns and the resignation of Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha.

The protest, which began as an online campaign under the hashtag #OccupyMOH, quickly escalated into a full-scale demonstration at Afya House.

Dressed in blue scrubs and white lab coats, the young medical professionals carried placards and chanted “Nakhumicha Must Go,” highlighting their frustration with the ministry’s failure to honor the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

“We’ve endured over six years of grueling medical school, sacrificing our lives to acquire life-saving skills. Now, the Ministry of Health is jeopardizing our future,” said Blasio Bukens, an unposted medical intern.

The CBA stipulates that medical interns should be posted within 30 days after completing their studies. However, many protesters claim to have been waiting for up to two years, leading to severe psychological distress and financial hardship.

“Our knowledge is decaying, and we’re losing opportunities to advance our lives,” another intern said, adding “The psychological suffering, we endure is immense. Without a license, we cannot practice medicine.”

This protest comes on the heels of the ministry’s announcement of partial intern postings, a move rejected by demonstrators who argue that thousands more remain unemployed. Reports suggest that many have become suicidal and resorted to jobs unrelated to their medical training, including domestic work.

The interns have further issued a two-pronged ultimatum to the Ministry of Health: immediate posting of all interns, with payments to be made in batches as resources become available, or the resignation of the Health Cabinet Secretary.

They rejected claims by the Ministry that tight fiscal space necessitates posting in batches.

“The Ministry must find a way to post all interns at once, similar to how they would find resources for subsequent batches,” one intern said.

In a surprising twist, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) initially called off plans to occupy Afya House, citing ongoing discussions.

However, KMPDU Secretary General Davji Atellah later claimed their social media account had been hacked and insisted the protest would proceed as planned.

The demonstrators also directed criticism at KMPDU, accusing the union of inadequately representing their interests.

“KMPDU, this is a message to you directly. We are coming for you. Be ready,” warned one intern, highlighting growing frustration with established institutions.

This protest is emblematic of a larger trend of Gen Z activism in Kenya, with young people increasingly holding leaders accountable for their promises and actions.

The #OccupyMOH movement represents a new era of digital activism translating into real-world action.

The interns appealed to Kenyans for solidarity, highlighting their past support during the Finance Bill Protests.

“Fellow Kenyans, medical interns do real work. Our labor generates income for the system. We stood with you during the Finance Bill Protests, and now it’s your time to stand with us,” they said.

This latest crisis comes as the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) called off their nationwide strike after over three months. KUCO Secretary General George Gibore announced the signing of a return-to-work formula with the Council of Governors, ending a strike that began on April 1.

The clinical officers had been demanding confirmation letters on permanent and pensionable terms for UHC staff hired during the COVID-19 period, among other grievances.

The government had maintained that it lacked resources to implement some of their demands, such as employing more healthcare workers and promotions.

As of press time, the Ministry of Heatth has yet to respond to the interns’ demands or allegations of mismanagement.

“We will not relent until our demands are met,” declared one protester, underscoring the interns’ resolve.

As the situation unfolds, all eyes remain on the Ministry of Health for their response to this unprecedented show of dissent from the country’s future medical professionals.

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