Is country getting value for money in Cuba medics deal?
Murimi Mutiga @murimimutiga
When the about 100 Cuban doctors arrived in the country, there were high hopes they would help public hospitals on the counties address healthcare challenges.
The specialists were expected to work in underserved rural areas where medical facilities are facing myriad of challenges including inadequate staff and equipment.
But their arrival was met with protests from local professionals who claimed the Cuban workers were more qualified than them and were out to take their jobs.
It is exactly two years since the first batch of the medics set foot in Kenya and their presence is hardly being felt especially in the ongoing fight against Covid-19.
Access to improved specialised medical services in many of the counties still remains far-fetched.
Many Kenyans say they have not felt their presence while county governments are asking for their whereabouts.
Muslims for Human Rights Chairman Khelef Khalifa says the cuban doctors have been missing in action.
“We have no idea where the Cuban doctors are. If they are in Nairobi, then it beats the purpose of importing their services. We need to feel their input in the fight against Covid-19.”
He added: “This could be another scandal. We have not heard of them since the kidnapping of their colleagues.”
Some of the foreign doctors fled from the rural counties where they had been posted mainly due to insecurity and are back in Nairobi.
Other counties have been made to bear huge costs of maintaining them by providing them with houses and vehicles to pick and drop them from their residences in urban centres to their work stations, most of them quite far apart.
Health services in counties bordering Somalia have suffered a big blow after all Cuban doctors left following fears of possible kidnapping by al Shaabab militants after two of them were abducted in Mandera in April last year.
Doctors Landy Rodriguez (a surgeon) and Herera Correa (general practitioner) were abducted in Mandera town by al Shabaab insurgents on April 12.
One year later after their colleagues working in Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Lamu, Taita Taveta and Isiolo were withdrawn, none has ever again set foot there.
Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmicists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Coast branch Secretary Dr Abidan Mwachi says the union had asked for the termination of the Kenya and Cuba employment deal because there was no value for money.
Mwachi says one of the two doctors brought to the Coast Provincial General Hospital in Mombasa went on leave last year and never came back.
“We had two at the hospital but one of them went and never came back. We are still of the opinion that they were hired at a very exorbitant fee because they are being paid almost 10 times the salary of their local counterparts,” he said.
“Our doctors are equally qualified and are doing great work in the fight against coronavirus,” he added.
County communication director Richard Chacha, however, says the county is hoping the doctor will still come back.
“She travelled back to Cuba on leave and unfortunately was caught up in the global disruption of movement occasioned by Covid-19 which saw many countries close their borders and airlines suspend flights,” he said, adding that the other doctor is an eye specialist and thus is not involved in coronavirus issues.
In Kwale, two female doctors attached to Msabweni County Referral Hospital were moved to Mombasa from Ukunda where they had been residing. They have been commuting to Msabweni daily.
The number of police officers guarding them has also been increased. Kwale has been listed as home to many of al Shabaab returnees and sympathisers in the country.
Health Chief Officer Dr Salim Mbete says the Cuban doctors are among the medics helping in the fight against Covid-19.
He said one of the doctors is among those stationed at the Covid-19 centre while the other is at the general wards. Mbete said the doctor was instrumental in treating the France national who tested positive.
Mbete, however, said the input of the medics towards the fighting against Covid-19 has not been felt because “Kwale is facing a major problem of testing kits in the referral hospital laboratory.”
Kwale depends on Kenya Medical Research Institute lab in Kilifi for the tests.
In Tana River, Health CEC Dr Javan Bonaya says the two doctors sent to the Hola County Hospital had helped improve delivery of services by filling the gap caused by shortage of medical experts before they moved to Nairobi.
“We have not seen or heard from them since they left, we thought they would come back. They were playing a big role and we really need them during this period of coronavirus,” he said.
In Lamu, Health CEC Dr Ann Gathoni said the Cuban doctors would have been of great help to local medics. “Though we do not have any case of Covid-19, the disease presents a big challenge and additional medics would help counties,” she said.