- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

NAIROBI, KENYA Hundreds of doctors from public medical facilities marched through the Kenyan capital on Wednesday to demand a larger stock of drugs in their hospitals, better equipment and better pay.

The doctors were on the third day of a countrywide strike. Teaching staff were drafted to work at the hospitals to help fill the gap.

One striking doctor, Dennis Miskellah, said he had to deliver a baby without gloves on his first day on the job at Kenyatta National Hospital.

“Can you imagine, in this era of HIV and AIDS, we don’t even have gloves at the country’s biggest public hospital?” he asked. “Sometimes we don’t even have IV lines.”

Other doctors said their hospitals ran out of drugs for deadly illnesses such as cholera or typhoid. Many said they knew of cases in which patients died because of the shortages.

“We doctors refuse to be used just to certify deaths,” Dr. Miskellah said.

The doctors said they want more drugs and equipment, a national plan to improve health care in Kenya, and higher wages. The starting wage for doctors in Kenya is about $400 a month.

In contrast, members of parliament make about $11,000 a month - some of the highest wages for legislators in the world.

“The politicians can afford to fly to America to get treatment, but what about the ordinary Kenyan?” asked Dr. Wambui Waithaka. “They are being forced to use hospitals where there are no supplies.”

She said a colleague died of renal failure because of a shortage of dialysis machines.

When another doctor had a head injury, Dr. Waithaka said, colleagues paid to send him to a private clinic because they feared the treatment at the public hospitals would not be adequate. The doctor could not afford to pay for the clinic by himself because of low wages, she said.

A government spokesman did not return calls seeking comment, but doctors said the government’s best offer so far was an extra $300 a month, to be phased in over the next three years.

Kenyan inflation is at nearly 20 percent year over year.

More than 7,000 university lecturers and 200,000 Kenyan teachers held similar strikes last month.

They were protesting overcrowded classes and low pay after it emerged that the government had diverted $53 million earmarked for education to the defense ministry instead.

Kenyan officials have said repeatedly that no money is available to increase the salaries of public-sector workers because Kenya is involved in military operations in Somalia.

Defense budgets are not publicly scrutinized.

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