State defends move to hire Cuban doctors

Bernard Gitau and Evans Nyakundi @PeopleDailyKe

The government has defended its decision to bring Cuban doctors into the country saying the move will bridge the patient-doctor ratio to realise Universal Health Care (UHC), one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda.

According to Chief of Staff and Head of the President’s Delivery Unit Nzioka Waita, Kenya’s doctor-to-patient ratio is 1:16,000, a far cry from the World Health Organisation recommended of 1:10,000.

“This means we are not anywhere near meeting the ratios required for the provision of quality healthcare to a majority of Kenyans,” he said.

Waita added that the partnership with the Cuban government aims at bringing in specialists in ontology, nephrology and dermatology to address the gap as the government moves to ensure realisation of the UHC in the next five years. “Specialists in these areas are few and far between, yet their services are in high demand.

The underlying objective of the partnership is to build expertise and capacity at Level 4 and 5 hospitals,” he said. Kenya has 2,089 specialist doctors,which leaves a yawning gap that threatens to slow achievement of UHC.

According to the Kenya Health Workforce Report: The Status of Health Care Professionals in Kenya, there were 5,660 medical doctors in 2015 serving over 40 million Kenyans. Due to this shortage, the government is importing 100 specialist doctors from Cuba for a two-year contract to be deployed in national and county hospitals.

Though the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union (KMPDU) has opposed the move, the government indicates that the specialists will be deployed in complex areas of medicine.

According to the report, there are only 123 specialists in radiotherapy/oncology, 387 gynecologists, 338 general surgery, 78 pathologists, 17 in family medicine, six microbiologists, one nephrologist and 24 dermatologist.

There are only 71 psychiatrists in Kenya, yet the latest global report on mental health by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that about 4.4 per cent of Kenyans – over two million – have a mental problem.

“As National government, we remain committed to not only supporting our home-grown medical professionals from technicians, nurses, clinical officers and doctors, but to also deliver service demanded by our people,” he added.

He said the government’s effort to boost access to specialised medical services at the county level is not a condemnation of Kenyan professionals. “This is a mere recognition that we need more specialised doctors. And we need especially those doctors prepared to leave the comfort of big cities to go and serve in rural communities where they are more needed,” said Waita.

He added that improving access by citizens in rural areas to medical specialists can only improve the current congestion at referral hospitals. “Even as the government works to recruit more local doctors, we must recognise that it takes many years to train doctors and have them ready for deployment,” he added.

He said this is an interim, stopgap measure and should be viewed in positive light as they show the determination of the government to improve access to quality healthcare.

“We urge all stakeholders to continue to engage directly with the Ministry of Health to find solutions to challenges that could undermine the delivery of affordable healthcare for all,” he said. KMPDU has said the government should consider the more than 1,200 Kenyan doctors currently unemployed.

Meanwhile, Nyamira senator Okongo Omogeni has welcomed the the move to get doctors from Cuba saying some counties are in dire need of medical specialists.

Speaking in Nyamira town, the senator asked the county’s health services department to ensure that there is adequate accommodation for the medics expected in the county soon.

However, deputy governor Amos Nyaribo, who was present, said the county has enough general physicians but only requires medical specialists. He, however, said the county referral hospital has sufficient accommodation for the Cuban doctors.

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