Hiring of Cuban Doctors Creates Controversy in Kenya

Signing of the Healthcare Agreement between Cuba and Kenya last year in Geneva with Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda on the Cuban side. (Minrex)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Pentón, Miami, 4 April 2018 —  The decision of the Government of Kenya to accelerate the hiring of 100 Cuban doctors has been badly received by the local Healthcare sector union, in a statement that denounces the situation of some 1,200 unemployed Kenyan doctors.

“This is not fair. [The government needs] to take advantage of these resources to update our medical skills, offer better working conditions, pay better salaries and then adjust the law that guides the provision of services [doctors]. [If this were done] we would not need imported doctors,” read a comment posted on the official Facebook page of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Union of Physicians, Pharmacists and Dentists of Kenya (KMPDU), which brings together public employees in these sectors, made clear its disagreement with the measure. “Kenya has trained doctors who are now unemployed and have been waiting for their deployment since May 2017,” the organization tweeted, in response to the official announcement about the hiring of Cuban healthcare workers.

Since then, the KMPDU has promoted a campaign to give jobs to Kenyan doctors and posted a survey on Twitter what garnered 2,364 votes, with 78% supporting the solution of recruiting Kenyan doctors before turning to Cubans.

Samuel Oroko, president of the KMPDU, told local media that his country has more than 1,200 unemployed doctors and that there are only 4,300 doctors working in the public health system serving a population of more than 49 million Kenyans. According to statistics from the World Health Organization there is one doctor for every 5,000 inhabitants, considered  very inadequate despite being Kenya’s being one of the best-equipped countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Oroko, however, believes that Cuban doctors are not the solution to the crisis in the healthcare system.

“There are no medicines and the laboratories do not work, so if they (Cubans) come, they will not be able to work,” said Oroko, who also asks where the money will come from to pay foreign doctors. According to official data, almost a quarter of Kenya’s healthcare expenses are paid by international organizations and private donors.

“Our advice is, and always has been, that Kenya improve its infrastructure and working conditions. Only then will we be able to attract and retain enough local specialists,” the head of the KMPDU told 14ymedio.

14ymedio was able to verify that the first doctors Cuba plans to send to Kenya are already receiving training in Havana. “The doctors who will provide their collaboration in Kenya are being trained at the Central Medical Cooperation Unit,” said a Cuban official on condition of anonymity. The doctors receive classes in English, local culture and the Kenyan public health system. The Cuban doctors still do not know what their salaries will be.

The first time that the Kenyan Government negotiated with Havana to send a group of doctors, it faced a one-hundred-day strike in its national health sector. Some 5,000 doctors stopped working because the Government failed to follow through on salary increases ranging from 150% to 200%, as it had previously agreed to do.

The strike ended with doctors receiving between 560 and 700 dollars a month in premiums, retroactive to January 2017. Cuban doctors were scheduled to travel to Kenya in October but at the last minute Nairobi suspended the contract due to pressure from the national healthcare sector, which opposed the bringing in of professionals from Cuba.

The monthly salary of a doctor in Kenya is at least a thousand dollars and can reach up to $5,000 in the private sector. In contrast, the average salary of Cuban doctors is about $60 US per month.

The president of Kenya made an official trip to Cuba last March where he was received by President Raúl Castro. The State visit focused on relaunching bilateral relations and negotiating the sending of doctors, sports technicians and biotechnological products.

Raúl Castro and the Kenyan President during his official visit to Cuba in March. (Minrex)

“I think I could summarize [the visit to Cuba] this way: I have seen the future and it works,” Kangumu County Governor Anyang ’Nyong’o, who accompanied the Kenyan president on his trip to the island, told African media.

“They have very good primary health care, they have excellent referral facilities, and I think that for us, who want to implement universal health care coverage, this is the place we should go and learn from,” he added.

The governor explained that the agreement seeks to bring two Cuban specialists to each of the counties of the African nation. The Kenyan Health Minister, Sicily Kariuki, said the agreement would last two years and asked that the discussion about bringing in Cuban doctors “not be politicized.”

14ymedio tried to communicate with Kenya’s Ministry of Health to learn the details of the contract for Cuban doctors (as of now unpublished) but did not get a response from the authorities.

Cuba promised the Kenyans vaccines against cattle ticks and technical support in the training of that nation’s boxing team. The cooperation planned with the Island is a part of the Big Four initiative with which President Kenyatta seeks “food security, affordable housing, industry and healthcare accessible to all.”

Havana bases a large part of its economy on the export of services, mainly health services, which provide the country an annual income of 11.5 billion dollars, according to official data not confirmed by independent means. The Cuban Government keeps more than half of the payment made for each doctor hired by foreign States or institutions.


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