Caring for health care workers critical to Ending AIDS in Kenya by 2030 FEATURE STORY

20 October 2017

A recent survey conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that health care workers in Kenya are at high risk of infection from HIV and other blood borne diseases through occupational exposure. Among health care workers, doctors have the highest rate of needle stick injuries, at 27%. Only two-thirds of these doctors access post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, with a completion rate of only 30%.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) have long recognised the need to find common solutions to health care workers’ occupational exposure to HIV and TB. A joint publication published in 2010 on health care workers’ access to HIV and TB services states that countries must protect the health and rights of their health workers by optimising their working conditions.

“We need to care for carers by putting occupational safety measures in place, alongside protective policies and support mechanisms. We must also address stigma and discrimination against and by health workers. Only then can we ensure healthy health care workers and quality services, accessible to all,” says Jantine Jacobi, UNAIDS Country Director in Kenya.

To create awareness on the challenges faced by medical professionals in terms of occupational health and safety and to identify possible solutions, ILO, the Central Organization of Trade Unions and the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union recently organized a round table consultation in Nairobi, Kenya. During the meeting, a member of the union pointed out that every week, Kenya loses one of its medical professionals, owing to a variety of reasons—stress at work, HIV and TB-related stigma, depression, substance abuse or poor medical care.

“We must give the health care work force priority in ensuring that their workplace needs are met, given the integral role they play in ensuring the occupational safety and health for the Kenyan workforce,” says Khadija Kassachoon, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of East Africa Community, Labour and Social Protection in Kenya.

The round table orientated stakeholders in a comprehensive programme targeting the unions’ members to ensure that their occupational safety and health (OSH) and general wellbeing are adequately addressed to ensure a functioning healthcare system.

Participants were oriented to HealthWISE Work Improvement in Health Services, a tool developed jointly by ILO and WHO which provides health-care institutions with a practical, participatory and cost effective tool to improve work conditions, OSH for health workers, performance and quality of health services.

“We will continue to involve health care workers in decision making and implementation of policies; engage them in constructive and effective service delivery, cultivate mutual respect and trust and avail equal opportunities and staff exposure to new and emerging challenges,” says Julius Korir, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health in Kenya.