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India stalls in Kenya medical cooperation?

Bilateral talks between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta resulted in a number of agreements regarding medicinal and agricultural cooperation. It has been reported, however, that Prime Minister Modi has remained silent on the topic of Kenya hiring Indian doctors, thought by many to be a strategy of replacement for Kenya’s currently striking doctors.

This claim has since been disputed. Kenyan Health cabinet secretary Cleopa Mailu has said the issue of the transfer of doctors was not brought up during the negotiations, and that this is simply a case of speculative reporting by the media.

This speculation may be derived from the phrasing of Modi’s announcement at the 8th Gujarat Global Summit:

“We want, and will encourage, industry and business in both countries to take the lead in exploiting opportunities in healthcare, tourism, information technology, agriculture, the blue economy and energy”

The implication from this is that the private health sector will be encouraged to organise agreements with Kenyan medical institutions, but with no guarantees of involvement from the Indian government.

This is a pressing matter for Kenya, with doctors in the country on strike since the 6th December 2016. The country is in the process of advertising to unemployed doctors in both India and Cuba to relocate and work in Kenyan hospitals. These foreign workers are seen as a cheaper alternative than native Kenyan doctors due to the demands of the strike.

In 2013 Kenyan government issued the Central Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in which healthcare professionals were promised a potential 300 percent pay rise and a review of working conditions and facilities. The CBA has not been implemented and this has led to a strike of over 5000 doctors.

Perhaps lending credibility to the news that India had stalled on the promise of Indian doctors is the fact that should foreign doctors be brought over, legally they would have to have approvals issued by the relevant credential authorities in Kenya. The medical bodies which govern these credentials list a number of the striking doctors in their membership. This could mean any Indian doctors seeking to work in Kenya could be blocked from receiving the relevant medical license and so unable to legally practice medicine in the country.

This limit to “encouragement” as opposed to a more solid business arrangement may therefore be mediated by the striking doctors as opposed to either governments reluctance to do business. India and Kenya have in the last few years enjoyed close links in regards to medicine, with medical tourism from Kenya to India becoming popular amongst the emerging middle class, spurring India to begin funding the establishment of medical outlets in Kenya.

India and Kenya seem to be developing a strong medical partnership, with Indian medical expertise and facilities capable of improving access to healthcare in Kenya. This is not an arrangement Kenya will wish to see sidelined, as it has the potential to benefit both countries greatly, with the Kenyan middle class providing a financial boost to Indian medical institutes. The outcome of this may only become clear once the strikes have been resolved.

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