Press Statement on the Doctor’s Strike and the underlying crisis of healthcare in Kenya

Zamara Foundation

Zamara Foundation, in collaboration with  the Center for Reproductive Rights,  Nyanza Initiative for  Girls  Education  and   Empowerment  (NIGEE)  and Superb CBO, are deeply concerned about the grave implications of prolonged doctors’ strike  onthe sexual and  reproductive health of adolescents,   girls,   and    women  in   Kenya.   We are committed to advancing gender equality and  ensuring access  to comprehensive Sexual Reproductive  Health and   Rights (SRHR) services,  and   recognize  the   profound impact  of  the   strike   on maternal health and   essential SRHR   information and   services. This  situationraises  fundamental questions about the right  to health as enshrined in the  Constitution of Kenya. Article 43(1)(a) affirmsevery  person’s right  to  the  highest attainable  standard  of  health,  including  access   to  healthcare services, while Article43(2)(a) mandates emergency medical treatment to be provided without denial. Furthermore, Article 43(2) (c)   ensures   that    access    to    healthcare   services,   including reproductive healthcare, cannot be  denied due  to an inability to pay.  The government must protect constitutional provisions, ensuring uninterrupted essential healthcare services, particularly those related to SRHR.

The ongoing doctors’ strike  has severely disrupted  access  to  essential Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn,  Child,  and   Adolescent  Health  (RMNCAH)  services.  This has affected adolescents, including pregnant teenagers and  teen  mothers,leaving them vulnerable to  a myriad of health  complications.   The withdrawal of the EduAfya Insurance Scheme has left nearly 3.4 million students vulnerable to medical challenges, reversing its gains and worsening the well-being of adolescents in public secondary schools, particularly from low-income families. The withdrawal of  the  Linda Mama maternal healthcare scheme by  the Kenyan government  has  also disrupted access   to  quality maternal care nationwide, leaving expectant mothers,including adolescents, without access  to free healthcare. This could potentially lead to increased maternal mortality rates, limitedaccess to prenatal and postnatal care, and financial strain for vulnerable women.

Despite these  challenges, healthcare workers have  demonstrated remarkable resilience and  dedication in delivering essentialSexual and Reproductive Health and  Rights (SRHR)  services,  including contraceptives and  safe and  legal abortionservices. Their  unwavering commitment to  patient care  underscores the  critical importance of investing in a robust,supportive healthcare system capable of withstanding  external disruptions.  This  crisis   has  sparked crucial  conversationsabout  the   systemic  issues   driving  healthcare disparities, highlighting the urgent need  for structural reforms, gender- inclusive budgets, and  gender-sensitive policies within the  Ministry of Health. Addressing these  issues will build  a more  equitable and resilient healthcare system that prioritizes the well- being  of   all  individuals,   especially   vulnerable   populations   like adolescents and expectant mothers.

Strengthening health system resilience is essential to prevent future disruptions to reproductive healthcare services.This   involves implementing multi-sectoral policies,  enhancing  community participation in healthcare decision-making, and integrating SRHR services  into  primary healthcare as outlined in the Sustainable Development  Goals  (SDGs)  and   Essential Public  Health  Functions (EPHF). By fortifying the healthcare system, the government can ensure continuousaccess to essential services, thereby promoting adolescents’ health and well-being and contributing to the president’sdevelopment agenda.

The Department of Reproductive and  Maternal Health (DRMH) within the Ministry of Health must take immediate action to end the ongoing doctor’s strike by prioritizing the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals in  reproductive  healthcare specialities, promoting gender equality in healthcare, strengthening health system resilience, and increasing funding to SRHR programs tailored to the unique needs of adolescents and young people. This comprehensive approach is essential for safeguarding adolescent health, promoting gender equity, and advancing Kenya’s development agenda. By adopting policies that prioritize the well-being of healthcare workers, address workplace gender   discrimination,  and    ensure     gender-inclusive   budgetary allocation,  the   Ministry of  Health  can   foster   a  supportive working environment  conducive  to   delivering  high-quality SRHR    services tailored to the diverse needs  of women and girls.

We also call on the  Ministry of  Health to prioritize programs catering to  the  unique needs   of  adolescentsand   young people, including access  to  contraceptives, maternal health services, prevention of unsafe  abortion,comprehensive sexuality education, and youth-friendly clinics. This will  empower  adolescents to  make informed decisionsabout their health, ultimately contributing to their  overall well-being and development.

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