The Doctors Of Kenya Give Their Best, Yet We Treat Them Like Repugnant Maggots

By Steve Biko / Published September 27, 2022 | 1:21 am


The ratio of nurses per 10,000 Kenyans varied from as high as 9.7 for every 10,000 people in Nairobi to as low as 0.1 for every 10,000 in remote counties of northern Kenya.



Kenya has a shortage of 3,238 medical officers, with the required number being at least 5,317. Using this index, Kenya's ratio is only 13.8 per 10,000 population, according to the Human Resources for Health policy brief by the Ministry of Health.

Kenya has 58,000 registered nurses, 12,000 registered doctors, and 14,000 clinical officers. Way below accepted global standards.

Kurt Vonnegut in his famous book, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, talks about the practice of medicine as… “The most exquisite pleasure in the practice of medicine comes from nudging a layman in the direction of terror, then bringing him back to safety again.” I am reminded of this quote by a story that ran in one of our dailies about Kenyan doctors and how we allegedly perceive them.

There is no society that does not have challenges. Every sector in society has challenges and Moreso the medical fraternity. Before I take this walk, I would like to reiterate the role of the media in our society today. It is their sole responsibility to ensure that the public has access to the truth, nothing but the truth. We are the conveyor belts of truth. We are the custodians of what the message is from yesterday to today. We are meant to be above reproach because we are the anointed messengers of our dear country Kenya.

Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 aptly opined on what Kenyan journalism is today, and it breaks my heart that I have to agree with him. He said that so much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here, not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms. He was clearly talking about Kenya and our current state of journalism and social media has not made it any easier.

Unfortunately, being above reproach isn’t appropriate or applicable anymore. My heart bleeds for this country because, without truth, we are lost and confused and are like blind men and women groping about in the darkness. Truth is the only banner of hope that we as Kenyans have to hold on to as we seek and search for solutions and remedies for that which is a plague to us.

Truth is meant to be sacred. It is sacrosanct. It is the foundation of justice and equality. It’s the equalizer of men and women in the face of fake news and fake deeps. When truth looks in the mirror, fairness looks out, and justice flourishes. This is what we desire in Kenya. Yet those charged with the responsibility have absconded on it and are in bed with the corrupters of truth and virtue that define who we are at our core as human beings.

The article by Nation Africa broke my heart. I have had my own run-ins with the doctors in this country. My mother was misdiagnosed and that led to her death. It took calmness, and reason to fully understand what happened and that is why my people, the Bukusu have a saying that…’ as it rains, and thunder roars and lightning strikes, one should not make any decision until that moment has passed and that no tree has been struck nor child harmed…’

While we are so quick to judge how evil and repugnant doctors are, do we ever ask how the environment they work in is? Do we ever ask if they have the right equipment and medicines and support staff? Do we pause and look around and see what kind of environment have we created for ourselves as patients and potential patients? I have seen doctors pull miracles out of the decaying public hospitals to treat my dad when he had a severe accident at age 92, got a hip replacement, and walked without support for three months. I have seen doctors show me what miracles are when my nephew had cancer and now is healed and a top student in this country. My daughter was in ICU for 18 days and I saw how doctors went over and beyond their calling to touch heaven and heal my daughter. Of course, I credit all these to God. He used His Servants, the doctors we demean so much to pull all these miracles.

Many would say what about those who have suffered under negligence or misdiagnosis? Yes, I am not ignoring them. In fact, instead of using such cases to vilify our doctors and the entire medical fraternity, we should be using them as our guiding beacons to improve our health sector and aim for a better environment that affords all Kenyans the opportunity to be treated by the best.

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Kenya is a country that hates its professionals. It’s a country that hates anyone who says the truth. It’s a country that vilifies anyone who dares to do what is right. It is not a country for doctors and nurses. It’s a country that disdains resources and elevates foreigners.

Kenya has a shortage of 3,238 medical officers, with the required number being at least 5,317. Using this index, Kenya’s ratio is only 13.8 per 10,000 population, according to the Human Resources for Health policy brief by the Ministry of Health. Kenya has 58,000 registered nurses, 12,000 registered doctors, and 14,000 clinical officers. Way below accepted global standards.

Every day nurses are leaving the country for better pastures. Our analysis at based on the Kenya Health Workforce Information System indicates that there is an overall shortage of nurses (range of 1.2 to 0.08 per 1,000) in the public sector countrywide and that there are major variations across counties in the nursing densities, skill mix, and demographic characteristics.

Let me break it down for you in a way you will understand. To understand the challenges that these doctors and other medics face, first understand their numbers and what it means to them and to us. According to the 2016 Kenya Health Workforce Project report, the country not only suffers a shortage but also serious disparities in the distribution of health workers.

The report found that the ratio of nurses per 10,000 Kenyans varied from as high as 9.7 for every 10,000 people in Nairobi to as low as 0.1 for every 10,000 in remote counties of northern Kenya. The disparity in doctors’ distribution is more pronounced because most of them are in urban areas. The ratio of doctors per 10,000 population ranged from as high as 9.5 per 10,000 in Nairobi to a low of 0.8 per 10,000 in the northern Kenya county of Mandera.

We have not looked that the state of our healthcare infrastructure. We haven’t looked at the lack of equipment, drugs, medicines, and other necessities YET we expect our doctors to work miracles as we fund corrupt politicians who use our money meant for medicines, equipment, and such, to buy luxury cars and when they get sick, they are flown out of the country.

Before we criticize the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals, can we criticize the way this country through its government has treated doctors in the last 10 years? Can we criticize how this country through devolution has made the medical fraternity a joke of the century? Can we criticize how this country through its parliament has sat back and watched as our doctors are replaced with foreigners who are paid 100 times more than our local doctors, denying them the opportunity to work and grow and practice? Can we criticize the lack of political will to truly discuss the Constitution and in particular the element of devolution that makes health a devolved function and the issue of resources both in capital and human to make it work better? Can we criticize the country through its elected leaders and how they have deliberately done nothing other than promote medical tourism to India and the US and Europe?

Before we take the sledgehammer and make minced meat of our doctors and their weaknesses, can we first critic the true environment in which they work? Can we look at how the private sector is and compare it? Can we honestly interrogate the value that the Cuban doctors have brought versus how much we have been paying them? Can we take an honest look at the nearest public hospital and ask ourselves, if your local elected leader needed urgent medical attention, will they go to that hospital or not? That’s where the answer lies. That’s where the problem is.

The media must exercise restraint in how they portray issues that might break a society. If the country loses faith in its medical healthcare practitioners, then it’s the end for us. We must find a way to address the issues that affect us. The media must look within and purge the rot and corruption that thrives in its midst that has made the brown envelope such a thriving vice before calling out the rot in other sectors of our dear country. The Fourth Estate is critical to the growth of this country and in ensuring that, that which is ideal, right, progressive, fair, and just is upheld and that the truth is sacrosanct, no matter the cost. The article was in bad faith and must be recalled. It does not matter if it was an investigative piece. We must interrogate the intention of the investigation and ensure that fairness and justice are given the right environment to thrive.

The media and especially Nation Africa must push the government, both National and County to invest more in the right areas of the health delivery system, in health promotion and prevention, including measures to ensure that more people are attracted to work in the health sector. When they have done this and they have investigated and seen proof, then, we can demand an internal audit.

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