For the past one hundred and twenty four days, public hospitals have been non-operational owing to the nurses’ strike. For one hundred and twenty four days, Kenyans have had to seek for alternative ways of keeping their sick alive as they wait for the government, ‘their government’, to do something.

The national government has been quoted on several occasions saying healthcare is a devolved function, in other words, the nurses’ strike is the headache of county governments. Meanwhile, the very national government that has exonerated itself from matters nurses’ strike is hopping from one county to another bragging about ninety four referral hospitals it has ‘opened’, MRI machines it has bought and installed across counties, numberless C-ARMS, dialysis machines bought and installed and blah blah blah. That the deputy president had the audacity of standing before the people and God in Vihiga County and mention machines and referral hospitals on the 4th/10/2017 in the midst of the longest nurses’ strike is plain sad. That two or three people clapped for him says a thing or two about us.

For a hospital to run, doctors, nurses, cleaners, lab technologists, porters, security personnel, sonographers, clinical officers, et cetera are needed. If hospital cleaners went on strike for an hour, hospital operations will grind to a halt. Same applies to cooks, lab techs, doctors and nurses. Nurses are a vital part of the healthcare system. This part has been missing for the past four months.

In the four months that nurses’ have been out of hospital, too much damage has happened. Too much that can not be undone. There are women who have died while giving birth; there are those who have lost their un-born children. HIV positive mothers have remained uncared for through-out pregnancy, some have had to give birth at home hence exposing their babies to HIV. Children born months before and those born during this strike are missing their immunizations and this will haunt us in the future.

Patients who were waiting in line to have operations are dying without ever stepping in theatre and this is after selling plots for theatre fees. Patients needing dialysis have had to do without dialysis for as long as their bodies can, they have changed their dialysis needs from twice a week to intermittently because that is what they can afford with the rates charged in the private hospitals. Cancers are progressing, cancer patients are making do without their morphine because palliation centers have been closed.
The old men have had to live with infected urinary catheters. Hypertensive patients have had to post-pone their check-ups. Diabetics have resorted to alternative medicine and prayers and hope. Meanwhile, their kidneys are getting damaged; blinding cataracts are slowly but surely growing in their eyes. Killer clots are developing in their arteries.

Too much damage is happening. But sadly, life is going on even as our children die of simple diarrhea and vomiting, pneumonia and malaria.
We have been so busy politicking that we have forgotten we have no place to take our sick, our injured. The media has been so busy with one political headline after another; it has no time for stale news about the health of the bottom class.

The opposition is so keen on getting into power it won’t talk on behalf of their poor supporters! We are busy feeling sorry for Uganda we have forgotten that we have no healthcare in our own country! Meanwhile, we are busy ‘advising’ women and girls to go for breast cancer screening because that is what the whole world is doing. We seem to be forgetting that we practicallyhave no hospitals at the moment!

“Free” Maternity

If the government is going to be silent about the rampant industrial actions in our public hospitals, then it is pointless to talk about free maternity. It is not fair to mislead masses about free services which are not always available or guaranteed. Free maternity should cease being a campaign point because as we speak, most maternity wards are under lock and key, the few that are open are without midwives. We all know that a maternity ward is only operational if we have the labor and majority of these labor comes from nurses who will admit patients, examine them , alert doctors about high risk patients and those that might need caesarean sections, monitor labor and assist in delivering mothers, and newborn resuscitation.
While nurses are out on the road, the government has remained mum about all issues concerning the strike by nurses; our people are dying and rotting away at home, some have remained in nearly non-operational public hospitals, receiving just food, no meds, no one to dress their wounds or even change their beddings. The worst hit are our pregnant mothers, sisters , daughters. While people can postpone seeking help for their infirmities, labor cannot be postponed. These are people who got pregnant in the first time knowing that all these things would be catered for by the government. Shock on them now when they walk to maternity wards only to encounter large padlocks on the doors of the very places they knew they would get help.
Families are now being faced with the tough decision between soliciting for the help of traditional birth attendants and selling whatever they own so as to cater for maternity services in the costly private hospitals. Some high risk patients, patients previously admitted for close monitoring have opted to risk their lives by walking back home and waiting on fate or for whatever is their lot. They know they would bleed to death at home, or get eclamptic fits and lose their lives and those of their unborn children at home. But what choices do they have? Some women are well aware of the risk of getting still birth ‘babies’ after nine months of nausea and vomiting, nine freaking months of waiting for a child who will come out dead and macerated. But again they have not many choices. It is now upon the government to decide if the strike ends so they can get reprieve. Otherwise, most will go on with life and wait for a miracle. A miracle which may happen or not.
Surely expectant mothers should save up for emergencies, any logical person would say. But the realities of life are sometimes harsh. Way harsh than logic. Take for example a nineteen year old casual laborer who makes one hundred shillings in a day, with pregnancy comes fatigue and general laziness and as a result, can only work three times a week. She manages to raise three hundred shillings. She needs to eat, clothe, and pay rent. The farthest thing in her mind when she eventually gets a hold of that money is saving or emergencies. They will spend their earnings on their most pressing needs and will never think about a future which might as well take care of itself.

Strikes by healthcare workers may look like a small matter, but it is no small matter. Not to the mother who lost her twins at the eleventh hour because her cord had prolapsed and the theatre in a public hospital was closed. It is not small to that young man who, lacking money sat his wife on a small stool the whole night, urging her to push, not knowing that the process of being in labor is a long one, and the reaction to every pain is not push.
Certainly not to that clueless neonate who lost her teenage mother to post partum hemorrhage because she couldn’t afford a safe delivery.
When the government sits wherever it sits and pretends that these strikes are about healthcare workers being heartless, greedy, selfish and whatever nouns they use to describe them, nothing gets solved. It is the responsibility of the government to provide healthcare to its citizens. These wars between counties, national government, nurses, doctors, clinical officers and morticians do not make sense to a mother who, after laboring at home for nineteen hours is finally pushed to a theatre only to be told that her uterus is badly ruptured, her baby didn’t make it and that she cannot carry another pregnancy in the near future. It doesn’t make sense to that woman with stage four cervical cancer, whose voice has become hoarse , who no longer screams of pain but is instead curled up in bed as if making herself smaller would reduce the pain.
There is no amount of development that can make a life lost come back. Build thirteen standard gauge rail way lines, talk about it to everyone, advertise it all over, but do not forget that there are deaths that happen when healthcare workers go on strike. There are children who are left with no parents, mothers with no children, men with no wives, wives with no husbands, and that loss, can never be compensated by a better economy!