Africa Struggles with Health Worker Strikes During Pandemic

Health personnel measure the temperature of a visitor at the entrance of the Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya on March 18, 2020. - The Government of Kenya confirmed new positive cases of COVID-19 coronavirus on March 18, 2020, bringing the total official number of cases in the East African country …
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Health workers across Africa have repeatedly gone on strike since the Chinese coronavirus pandemic began over adverse working conditions. In Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, doctors and nurses say a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), no health insurance, and no pay are among the reasons they have chosen to strike.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) announced a strike on Monday “over poor pay and dilapidated health facilities,” Kenya’s Daily Nation reported. “Medical workers in the country endure unfavorable working conditions that have recently been “worsened by the Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic,” KMPDU Secretary-General Chibanzi Mwachonda said in Nairobi on Monday.

According to the newspaper, some Kenyan counties, “including Homa Bay, Kisumu, and Embu, have not paid healthcare workers for the last three months. As they are frontline workers fighting the pandemic, the delayed pay has lowered morale.”

With the exception of “only 20 counties,” health workers in Kenya lack comprehensive medical insurance, according to Mwachonda. “Six health workers have died from Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus]-related complications, while over 1,000 have contracted the virus” in Kenya so far, according to the report.

In Nigeria, doctors resumed a strike on Monday “over unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance, and a dearth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals” that was suspended in June. Nigeria’s National Association of Residents Doctors (NARD) said that the government had yet to fulfill these needs and called for the strike’s resumption this week.

Africa’s Medical Digest published an anonymous article last week in which a doctor in Zimbabwe explained why healthcare workers in the country decided to go on strike this summer. The author details the plight of doctors and nurses striving to treat coronavirus patients in the corrupt nation.

“Medics in Zimbabwe were struggling to get by on … low wages and to work in … poor conditions” last year, according to the author. “This led us to go on strike in September 2019. We only returned to work in January 2020 when the [Zimbabwean] telecoms tycoon Strive Masiyiwa offered to supplement our government wages with a monthly subsistence allowance through his charitable foundation.”

“But then, in March, COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] reached Zimbabwe. At a time when the dilapidated healthcare sector urgently needed support and attention, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration did nothing,” the medic claimed.

In April, Zimbabwe’s High Court “ordered the government to ensure all healthcare workers were supplied with…PPE. But now in August [when the article was written], there is still hardly any PPE,” the doctor revealed.

“Pay has also remained desperately inadequate … As a doctor, for instance, I receive about $175/month. That’s a little less than $6 a day. The situation is even more dire for nurses. Many of these essential workers receive just $30/month and go hungry because they can’t afford to spend money on food,” the author wrote.

“It’s for these reasons that nurses in Zimbabwe went on strike two months ago. Instead of improving pay, PPE, and working conditions … the government brought in student nurses and those who had been out of work for a long time. This meant that many wards were overwhelmed or staffed with nurses who were either inexperienced or who hadn’t received recent training,” the medic explains. “Shortly after, doctors downed tools too,” the author added.

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