Kenyan doctors on strike
A patient waiting while carers strike at the Kisumu County Hospital, Kisumu on 8 December 2016 James Kayee/AFP/Getty

Kenyan national doctors' union officials have responded to President Uhuru Kenyatta's decision to pull out of talks to resolve the 95-day strike that has crippled public hospitals.

The doctors union (KMPDU) began a strike, on 5 December 2016, over the government's failure to implement a pay package conforming to an agreement signed by unions and the government in 2013.

As the strike lengthened, President Uhuru Kenyatta urged the medics to return to work, stating that dozens of people had died due to the industrial action because of lack of treatment. Last month, the doctors were given an ultimatum to report to work or be sacked.

Religious leaders had been negotiating a deal between union officials and the government with doctors stating they would return to work as soon as the agreement was signed. After the proposal was presented to a court in Nairobi, on 7 March, however, the government backtracked.

In the face of a deal breakdown, Ouma Oluga, secretary-general of the union, said that resuming work under Kenyatta's order amounts to career suicide.

"While all doctors have been ready to resume duty, doing so under threats, intimidation and show of disrespect is tantamount to career suicide," he is quoted by BBC as saying.

"The success of the union depends on the very resolve and the unity we exhibit. Let us guard it," Oluga added, as he commented on the Daily Nation newspaper report that the government's on Tuesday (7 March) said that it would review the KMPDU's registration and role.

While Oluga said the union was committed to ensuring the agreement signed by unions and the government is implemented, Peter Munya, the Chairman of the Council of Governors – who represents the country's 47 governors – insisted doctors who do not report to work will be given dismissal letters.

Kenyatta on 7 March said he was committed to a "fair resolution" to the dispute. In a video posted on his Twitter account, the head of state said: "It is time for doctors to uphold their oath to protect life, and to uphold the principle of fairness".

He added: "Fairness to you as doctors cannot come at the expense of fairness to other Kenyans. Your duty is to serve all, to protect and to care for all". Claiming doctors were being "offered... more money than even doctors in the private sector receive", Kenyatta added that the doctors' demands for pay increase and better working conditions was "blackmail".

The 2013 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) promised to reside terms of work, increase the number of doctors, a 300% pay increase, and increase research funds, drugs and equipment in public hospitals. The agreement was never implemented.