Pressure mounts on Kenyan Govt as PSI Affiliates demand Answers over Violence Against Health Workers

The Kenyan Government is facing pressure from across the world as PSI-affiliated unions stand in solidarity with health workers on strike, calling for an end to violence against union protests and improvements to the healthcare system.

On February 29th, General Secretary of the Kenyan Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Dr. Davji Bhimji Attellah was shot at close range with a teargas canister during a peaceful union protest in Nairobi. Comrade Davji was severely injured in the unprovoked attack. His life was only saved by the quick actions of his fellow healthcare workers protesting alongside him. PSI affiliates have written letters to Kenyan embassies around the world demanding answers and calling on the government to listen to the demands of health workers.

The KMPDU strike began after the government failed to release funds for 1200 intern doctors

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry has called on the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to use the influence of the United States to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation. In a letter to Blinken, Mary Kay Henry said "This attack on a trade union leader is totally unacceptable. Subjecting health workers to violence for attempting to improve the healthcare system in Kenya is unacceptable. We call on you to use the influence of the United States to ensure that the Kenyan government thoroughly and impartially investigates this incident."

The New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association told the Kenyan High Commissioner in Australia:"The right to freedom of association, the right to protest, and the desperate need for advocacy to achieve universal access to quality public healthcare means that governments everywhere must respect the right for trade unions to speak out, and to do so free from the threat of violence." UNISON in the United Kingdom also condemned the violence and said they would also be raising the issue diplomatically.

The February 29 KMPDU demonstration was a response to the government's failed to release funds for 1200 intern doctors who are urgently needed to both address the current workforce shortages and secure the future of Kenya’s healthcare system. Other demands include postgraduate training, employment of more doctors, comprehensive health coverage for medics and respect for the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The strike is supported by the Kenyan Union of Clinical Officers, Kenya National Union of Nurses and the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers, among others.

In the wake of the government’s crackdown instead of heeding the demands of the protesting health workers, they embarked on a strike at the beginning of March. As the strike continued on Wednesday, Steve Onyango-Ndonga, chair of KMPDU’s Nyanza Branch, said “Doctors cannot be essential workers only when the government wants to exploit them like during COVID-19, but become non-essential during the budget process.”

PSI is currently running an organising program in Kenya, with support from CIR-SEIU and UNISON, to build union density in the health sector and win improved conditions for health workers and better services for patients. The project links unions worldwide to challenge the continued promotion of health privatisation and private equity takeovers by government and multilateral development finance institutions, including the World Bank, in Kenya and across the Global South. Kenyan health workers say working conditions in privatised facilities are much more precarious than in the public sector. Meanwhile OXFAM has uncovered disturbing stories of Private-Equity owned hospitals refusing to hand over bodies to their loved ones until health costs are paid.

Such practices highlight the need for universal access to quality healthcare and the importance of public healthcare systems for development. Privatisation of healthcare, including Private-Equity takeovers, are happening globally. KMPDU is leading the way to protect public health and setting an example for global unions everywhere.

PSI General Secretary Daniel Bertossa said: “The Kenyan Government won’t be able to ignore the vital demands of Kenya’s health workforce much longer. PSI’s 30 million affiliated members, most of whom work in health, will continue to stand with our comrades and support their long-term organising efforts to build power and win better conditions for”.

Global Solidarity is key to helping Kenya’s health workers win.

To find out how your union can support our organising Campaign and/or the strike fund, please email: steven.ward@world-psi.org