By Leonida Kombo
Imagine you are walking along a train track and down the line you see five people tied to the tracks. Shortly afterwards, a speeding train approaches, heading straight for the five. Searching frantically for a solution, you see a lever you can pull to divert the train to another set of tracks, only to discover that one person has been tied to that set of tracks too. Would you pull the lever, actively killing one person, or instead do nothing which would effectively kill five people? This moral dilemma is known as the Trolley Problem.
Doctors in Kenya are currently facing a similar dilemma, especially because all medical workers are required to take the Hippocratic oath, obligating them to uphold certain ethical standards in their practice. A nationwide health workers’ strike began on December 5th, demanding the Government implement the Collective Bargaining Agreement ensuring higher wages and improved conditions.
The strike has paralyzed operations in many public hospitals across the country and within the past weeks, doctors from private hospitals have joined in by boycotting work every Thursday. While these strikes are life threatening for patients, the workers feel they have an obligation to direct change - to pull the lever and divert the trolley, killing that one person in the process, but saving the greater good down the line.
So what is the right thing to do? We had a conversation with Kenyans to hear their thoughts about this health crisis. 83% said they have been directly affected by the strike, which happened during the festive season, showing the widespread influence of health care workers. 79% told us they don’t support the strike, with many reporting that they fear for their lives in the absence of adequate care.
On the other side, 74% of Kenyans are not happy with the general state of healthcare in the country. 53% confessed they personally know someone who has sought treatment abroad in their lifetime after not receiving the care they needed in Kenya, suggesting a need for change. Most commented that a salary increase by the government would put an end to the strikes.
Unfortunately, health workers’ strikes in Kenya are almost becoming an annual event. Health workers warned that this will be the longest strike in Kenya’s history unless their demands are met. The Government has since tried to strike a deal but the doctors are maintaining their stance on the CBA. Hence the moral dilemma. If they continue with the strike, Kenyans will continue to have limited care but if they end the strike immediately Kenyans will continue to have a limited health care system. Which route is worth the cost?