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Kenyan doctors strike over pay, hospital equipment

Striking Kenyan doctors march through Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Hundreds of doctors from public medical facilities marched through the Kenyan capital on Wednesday to demand a larger stock of drugs in their hospitals, better equipment and better pay, on the third day of a countrywide strike. Striking Kenyan doctors march through Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Hundreds of doctors from public medical facilities marched through the Kenyan capital on Wednesday to demand a larger stock of drugs in their hospitals, better equipment and better pay, on the third day of a countrywide strike. (AP Photo/Katharine Houreld)
By Katharine Houreld
Associated Press / December 7, 2011
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NAIROBI, Kenya—Hundreds of doctors from public medical facilities marched through the Kenyan capital on Wednesday to demand a larger stock of drugs in their hospitals, better equipment and better pay.

The doctors were on the third day of a countrywide strike. Teaching staff have been drafted to work at the hospitals to help fill the gap.

One striking doctor, Dennis Miskellah, said that on his first day on the job at Kenyatta National Hospital he had to deliver a baby without gloves.

"Can you imagine, in this era of HIV and AIDS, we don't even have gloves at the country's biggest public hospital?" he asked. "Sometimes we don't even have IV lines."

Other doctors said their hospitals ran out of drugs for deadly illnesses like cholera or typhoid. Many said they knew of cases where patients had died because of the shortages.

"We doctors refuse to be used just to certify deaths," said Miskellah.

The doctors said they wanted more drugs and equipment, a national plan to improve health care in Kenya, and higher wages. The starting wage for doctors in Kenya is about $400 a month. In contrast, members of parliament make around $11,000 a month -- some of the highest wages for legislators in the world.

"The politicians can afford to fly to America to get treatment, but what about the ordinary Kenyan?" asked Dr. Wambui Waithaka. "They are being forced to use hospitals where there are no supplies."

She said a colleague had died of renal failure because there were so few dialysis machines. When another doctor had a head injury, she said, colleagues paid to send him to a private clinic, fearing there would not be adequate treatment at the public hospitals. The doctor could not afford to pay for the clinic by himself because wages were so low, she said.

A government spokesman did not return calls seeking comment, but doctors said the government's best offer so far was an extra $300 a month to be phased in over the next three years. Kenyan inflation is at nearly 20 percent year over year.

The doctors' strike follows similar strikes by more than 7,000 university lecturers and 200,000 Kenyan teachers last month. They were protesting over overcrowded classes and low pay after it emerged the government has diverted $53 million earmarked for education to the defense ministry instead.

Kenyan officials have repeatedly said that there is no money to increase the salaries of public sector workers because Kenya is involved in military operations in Somalia. Defense budgets are not publicly scrutinized.

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