By Rael Ombuor

NAIROBI — Kenya has agreed to accelerate a health agreement it signed with Cuba last year and bring 100 doctors from the country to fill gaps in Kenyan hospitals. Fifty Kenyan doctors will also be sent to Cuba for specialized training.

The Kenyan government says the deal to import Cuban doctors would help counter gaps in Kenya's medical facilities.

Kenya Cabinet Secretary for Health Sicily Kariuki explains.

“The target is to bring 100 specialized doctors from Cuba. One is because of the HR resource gap that we have," said Kariuki. "We are careful not to crowd the place with general doctors and therefore the aim of my ministry is to bring forward critical care physicians at that level - family physicians, physicists, oncologists and surgeons dealing with plastic reconstructive surgery, dealing with orthopedic surgery and dealing with neurosurgery."

Each Kenyan county is expected to get at least two of the specialist doctors.

But Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union chairman Samuel Oroko says the move will not address the systemic dysfunction in Kenya's health system.

“There are no drugs, theaters are not functioning, laboratories are not functioning, so even if they come and the systems are not functioning, they are coming just to be idle and they may not get equipment to use to train our own," said Oroko. "So we need to look at all angles of our health system, not just bringing them because of bringing, but to ensure the system is functional so that they can operate.”

The agreement will also see Kenya work with Cuba on collaborative research projects, training for healthcare workers, and collaborations in fields such as genetic engineering and biotech work.

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Former Kenyan Minister of Medical Services, Professor Anyang Nyongo, visited Cuba and says Kenya will benefit from the agreement.

“As health minister I came here and we were trying to work things together and I actually proposed some things that we needed to do, for example malaria vector control, collaborating with teaching, engineering, and a biotechmology center, but unfortunately we did not get far," said Nyongo. "What gives me satisfaction this time is that the president is determined we implement these long standing proposals of collaboration between us and Cuba."

Oroko says the medical union is not against any collaboration or partnership with other governments.

“Our appeal and advice is that as we consider bringing expertise from other countries, we need to exhaust what we have locally," said Oroko. "And if we lack capacity locally we should focus on training our own so that they can be able to manage the patients in Kenya.”

The union says more than 1,200 Kenyan doctors have been unemployed since May 2017.

“Equally we do have a number of doctors who have qualified, both general practitioners and specialists, who have not been employed and they are Kenyans," said Oroko.

Kariuki says there are plans to absorb the graduate doctors into the healthcare system, but she says Kenya would still not be able to meet the recommended doctor to patient ratio.

Oroko says about 4,300 doctors work in the public sector for Kenya's 38.6 million people.

“There is the required number of doctors we are supposed to have per facility, and it is public knowledge, the WHO requires that we have one doctor per 1,000 patients in any given population, currently in Kenya we have one doctor per 24,000 patients," said Oroko. "... Where are they going to get the money to employ the ones coming from Cuba?"

The union blocked attempts by the government to bring in doctors from Tanzania at the height of its three month strike last year. The agreement ending the strike called for pay increases and medical rick allowances.

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Kenya Is Importing 100 Doctors from Cuba to Fill Gaps in Its Hospitals