THE DOCTORS’ STRIKE :A WAR OF GENERATIONAL IDEALS

Tears….

I am on the verge of tears every time I watch prime time news.

I have been following the doctors strike since it started and I cant help but side with the doctors and cry for the Kenyans losing loved ones at public hospitals that are nothing empty buildings.

They lack basic equipment that would go along way towards saving lives,yet doctors are expected to act like God and somehow save the patients who show up there everyday.

Having worked at the largest referral hospital in the country and even had a chance to do ward rounds with the doctors the few times I was there as a nutritionist,it is a frustrating  experience working in the public health sector…

I watched patients share beds,some sleeping on the floor …

And that was at Kenya’s largest referral hospital,what then happens in far flung areas laround the country?

Kenyan doctors in public hospitals really are miracle workers if they have been able to work for so long with so little and been able to send patients home,cured of whatever was ailing them.

But more than the better renumeration and improved working conditions they are asking for,this is a war among two generations of Kenyans.

On one hand you have the seasoned politicians and trade unionists who are the wheeler dealers in the political scene and on the other are a relatively young crowd of doctors,some of the sharpest minds from the best schools in the country.

Who studied  through high school,got the best grades and were called to med school,went through five years of medical school,worked on cadavers,graveyard shifts,witnessed all the blood and gore found in casualty wards during internship  and finally when they graduated, they realized all their hard work was going to be nought.

Not because they did not work hard enough or love their jobs but because they were working for a government that has skewed priorities.

These doctors whose average age cannot be more than 30 are battling with men and women who have watched over the ruin of the public health sector.

They have watched the way our leaders have placed priority over digitizing parliament when incubators for saving babies remain pipe dreams in most public hospitals.

They have watched the government furnish its Ministers with entourages of fuel guzzlers when for a population of 40 million Kenyans there are only 24 dialysis machines.

They have watched us put up a Vice Presidents residence at the cost of 1 billion Kenya shillings when the government has withdrawn budgetary allocation for post-graduate studies of medical students.

The doctors have watched the way our legislators are pampered with the best in health care insurance,guaranteed even airlifts incase one of them falls sick when doctors in North Eastern province are hanging IV drips from tree branches.

They have watched the way we are spending 200,00  for Kenya shillings for chairs that will be used for 3 days in a week for a few hours by legislators,when we cannot afford to hire pay the same amount to hire more doctors

The doctors have come from a generation of Kenyans that have watched the way politics was played with the issue of taxes by MP’s,where  money was miraculously found to pay of their tax arrears.But none can be found to hire more doctors to relieve the work of the 2.300 docotrs who work 19 hours every day for a population of 40 million.

This a war of ideals but who is going to blink first?

Is it the old guard used to getting their way or is it the young men and women fighting for the ideals they believe in?

That the public health sector needs more funding and that the Kenyan tax payer deserves better services at reasonable cost in public hospitals.

How do you believe a government that has pampered its legislators.

How do you trust a government that has not shown it has the will or commitment to fight corruption?

How do you trust a government that says one thing today and another tomorrow?

How do you trust a government that playing games with the life of its citizens?

How do you trust a government whose ministers(the ones in charge of public health and medical services)are nowhere to be seen when the health sector is in a crisis?

In another country they would have resigned,but hey this is Kenya…..

Where Ministers say they would rather die than resign…

Where all traffic comes to a standstill when the top government honchos are going anywhere,creating gridlock sfor hours even before they leave their houses.

Where their entourages are accompanied by police outriders

….. yet public hospitals lack ambulances and sometimes even  fuel.

Who is going to be the first to blink in this war that is increasingly becoming more a show of mettle than of words?

Is it going to be the generation of Kenyans that have watched over the rot and ruin in the country  or the young Kenyans fighting for a bigger cause ,for somehting they believe in?

DISCOVERING CARL SAGAN:WHY EVERY (SCIENCE) TEACHER NEEDS TO READ THIS GREAT MAN

Carl Sagan was a man famous for many things and especially for de- mystifyng science for ordinary Americans,sadly he died 15 years ago and today as i read his book The Demon Haunted World I wish I had met him but more  than that ,that science teachers in Kenya would get the book and read it cover to cover as i did.Sagan sets out to portray Science in an easy to know way without sounding pompous and his reverence for the universe (he was a Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences)jumps at you with every word in this book and with each turn of the page.

Written largely for an American audience it does have much to offer for Kenyan audiences too because much of what he discusses we can relate too,from aliens  ,to pseudo-science to miracles and even  hallucinations.He urges his fellow scientists to “communicate the substance and approach  of science in newspapers,magazines,on radio and television,in lectures for the general  public,and in elementary,middle,and high school text books.”

As i was reading the book, which is a must have in my opinion for the curious ,i was reminded of two things ,no its four  things that have hit our local headlines and that would be made clearer if Kenyan scientists took time to explain things to the general public.One of them is the afforestation programmes going on in the Mau Forest  and other water catchment areas,the increasing Kenyan population,the proposal to start nuclear power generation and the GMO debate.

Much of the debates that have occurred in the public sector have been based on superstition,ignorance and myths.Take the example of GMO that is sensitive very sensitive here because it deals with a national delicacy ugali(stiff mixture of corn meal taken with vegetables/meat stew).Even scientists who should know better discouraged it on the basis that it was an untested technology and that we were being used as guinea pigs by companies.We forget that maize seed has seen changes made to its genetic make-up to yield more and withstand disease.

Or the Mau Forest where a certain MP whom i would not name was telling his constituents not to move from the areas of the forest they had encroached because there was no way trees could attract rainfall.Yet if you drive along the Nairobi Kericho ,you get a clear view of the heavy grey clouds always hovering over the trees.Ready to pour down ,nourish the trees and provide water for the people down stream and feed the many rivers,lakes that rely on this water catchment.

All of these areas i have highlighted would benefit from a demystification approach without scientists being too patronizing to the listening public.We would all benefit from knowing exactly what it is we are dealing with and the after effects of whatever cause of action we take.Then science would cease being a reserve for the “nerds” but would become the marvel that it is.

In primary school i remember my fascination with the human body and with space,i would read over and over again about leukocytes(white blood cells) and (erythrocytes (red blood cells)blood plasma,how the heart and kidneys worked .My dad and i would even spend some nights outside star gazing,it was wonderful and thrilling !But in high school everything changed,i could never get my head around physics and chemistry was a struggle yet i remained fascinated with biology and would pore over my textbooks and notes especially when it came to the topic on genetics.Somehow my curiosity waned and i never understood why.

Probably it was the way it was taught or i was too afraid of asking dumb questions,something Sagan says he saw in high school kids too, the fear to ask and dumb .He said that his most enthusiastic audiences were elementary school kids who never got tired  of asking questions and Sagan talks about “provocative and insightful questions bubbling out of them.”.But he reports his disappointment with high school students ,who had  learnt to “memorize facts” and the “joy of discovery had gone out of them.”

Could we as a country learn something from the mind of this great man who never lost his wonder and curiosity about science?With a vision towards seeing Kenya being an  industrialized country by the year 20303,is there more we could add to the present curriculum to motivate students to take up more science subjects.We need to have more students taking up these courses in our universities and we need to have more Kenyan Professors who are passing on this love of science to the next generation.How many of them go to high schools to pass on this  wonder for the natural world to students,most forays in career fairs are by accountants or even lawyers but rarely do scientists venture out from their laboratories.Who knows the next cure for cancer,AIDS could come from among these young ones.With climate change slowing affecting seasons we need more studies done on the effects this will have on our environment,land use and disease and science will have the answer to that.

Hopefully the recent back and forth that has been going on among stake holders in the educational system as to the review of the 8-4-4 system of education and the way this knowledge is passed on to students will be reviewed so that we do not cede the natural curiosity and need to know we had as children.This innate “need to know” and “stretching of our minds” is something we as a humans have and must use in order to survive in a world that is changing pretty fast.

I will end this with a beautiful article by Carl Sagan’s wife published  in the Skeptical Inquirer in his memory….

DENY,DENY DENY AT YOU OWN PERIL

No one knows this better than Anthony Weiner the Democratic Party congressman who was forced to resign after weeks of a scandal involving the inappropriate photos he had been sharing of himself on the social networks platform of Twitter  were leaked to the public.The 46 year old married Congressman who had been labelled as a rising star had been denying that he had sent the photos for weeks but finally caved in and admitted to his lack of judgement and resigned ,full details leading to hi resignation can be found here.

While Kenyan politicians have not been involved in such scintillating scandals such as those that seem to envelope US politicians whose most recent victim was Weiner,we do have scandals of our own that involve integrity and honesty of the men we elect to the August house and to other public offices.

The most recent scandal to hit the Kenyan press has been the misappropriation and blatant theft of billions of Kenya shillings meant for free primary education.It has been said senior officers in the Ministry of Education wired huge amounts of money that up to now run into 4.2 billion shillings into accounts of non existent schools.The scandals  have not elicited much public response which makes me wonder if Kenyans despite the new constitution and having a new CJ are not too tolerant of wrong doing among public officials.So far the Minister in charge of Education and his PS have so far denied any wrong doing and are staying put in their offices.

Last year in March,there was a scandal involving the same Ministry and the PS then one Professor Karega Mutahi who was transferred to the Ministry of Local government and we carried on with business as usual.Now just a few days ago the Minister of Finance Uhuru Kenyatta  released an audit report carried out by the government that confirmed what Professor Sam Ongeri had been denying since last year,that indeed  billions had been spirited away by people in his Ministry.Details of the scandal can be read here and here.

This makes we wonder whether our politicians and senior public servants ever care about their reputations and the character assassination that follows public scandals.Abraham Lincoln a man greatly honored by Americans for fighting for the emancipation of slaves once said “character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.The shadow is what we think of it;the tree is the real thing.”.

You will never hear a Kenyan politician or public servant resign for any scandal whatsoever and most wait to be hounded out of office through public outcry or by Presidential decree.These men and women would rather hung their characters and reputations out to dry than admit lapse of judgement or ignorance for any misdemeanours they may be  caught in.

It does not make sense however to have your name dragged into disrepute,be caught up in mudslinging and put your family through emotional suffering just because your pride does not allow you to admit you lapsed in your responsibilities and duties.Too often i have heard members of the Kenyan parliament lament how their families and children are being ostracized when they are mentioned in scandals and to me it sounds like they are just begging for sympathy.

Just a few days ago the new Kenyan Chief Justice was being disparaged by members of the clergy for his adornment of an earring,his sexuality and marital status and not for one moment did he blink.Our members of parliament never allow such kind of scrutiny on one of their own and are quick to amend or vote down  motions in parliament that would otherwise allow closer scrutiny of misconduct.

It is time Kenyans stopped being so accommodating and complacent when it comes to wrongdoing and being economical with the truth that public servants and elected members of parliament are so fond of.We should start demanding the same high standard of integrity,honesty and character that we have asked of the recently appointed members of the supreme court and the Chief Justice and his Deputy.If we do not do this we shall continue seeing the same theft and misuse of money meant to ensure this country’s children do not face bleak future.Hospitals,dispensaries and other public institutions that are in dire need of funding will continue to lack basic equipment to save lives or to function and the vision 2030 will continue being nothing other than a pipe dream.

We need to see more Ministers resigning not at the behest of the President but because their have a conscience and know  the wrong doing they have been party to or ignored in their Ministries .We do not have to see them being hounded out of office because of public outcry but because they know they failed at the responsibilities and functions the 40 million Kenyans have entrusted them with.

KENYAN EDUCATION SYTEM…..Time for change.

Every parents dream is to have their child on the list of 100 best students in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education(KCPE) because that will guarantee that their child will see the gates of some of the best schools in the country.For any parent with means to take their child there after they pass these examinations it is bliss but it is also sad to note that there are parents who though their children are bright and meet the criteria for joining these schools choose to forfeit these chances.National schools have all the facilities that apart from private run schools all other schools in the public school criteria dream about.Form well stocked libraries to laboratories to games and sport facilities you name it,these school have earned the title as they put a lot of hard work in their academics and only get the creme de la creme of the teaching fraternity.

We know all too well the anxiety and flurry of activity that greets the exam periods in Kenya.Street hawkers and supermarkets stock up on the success cards we love to send out to our relatives and friends children and in early November these young tots sit their exams hoping and praying to outshine their classmates and be declared the best student in the country.In late December just after the Christmas holiday is over the results are out and everything station goes out to look for these bright students n every far flung area of the country.Watching them extol the virtues of hard work and discipline it is clear to see they are glad the exams are over and done with and they can now move to other things.Yet in my opinion education should be interesting and fun because it never ends,i have yet to hear of a student who says they enjoyed their time in school.Drilling and cramming will never instill the curiosity to learn that should be the way we take everything in love.National Geographic puts it very well in their live curious advert,when you are curious you will seek to know and to you therefore learn and acquire knowledge in the process.

KCPE has been a constant fixture in Kenyan lives since the start of the 8-4-4 system of education.But as time goes on a lot of other parents have decided to enrol their children in schools that are offering the British system of education and some are sending their children to Uganda too our next door neighbor whose system is structured like the British system with students sitting exams in their sixth form and they have had the system since the 60’s

Education experts who determine what our children are taught in schools need to tell us if the syllabus they are offering to Kenyan students prepares them for the world out here.While education means different things to everyone and there is no one agreed definition even among the experts dictionary.com defines it as the act of acquiring general knowledge, and developing the power of reason and judgment.Looking at the cases of delinquency in Kenyan schools from burning of school property to riots it is time we asked ourselves whether we are imparting the right kind of education at home and at school.Education is a three legged stool and needs the parents,school administration and the student them selves for it to work.A missing link and it will not work,so parents do need to play a role in what their children are learning in school,they are stake holders in these process and need to make their voices heard and roles taken up seriously.If you read on the stories of successful people in various fields you will always hear the role a parent(s)played in shaping their lives and in instilling a love for knowledge.

Animals the world over look after their young and just watching the way a lioness looks after her cubs going out to bring food,showing them how to hunt as they follow her around and finally when they are big enough to go out and look after them selves is amazing.This is just a simple illustration of what education in the animal kingdom is ,about survival.While as human beings we don’t need to show them how to stalk and throttle zebras and gazelles we need to show them how to survive in the world today as it is with all its pitfalls and how to avoid the lure of easy money,drug and alcohol abuse and instilling values and cultivating virtues that will see them succeed.

I would suggest that our education experts take lessons from the best systems in the world and pick a few lessons that we can adopt to fit into our own.Even Uganda is a good case study because we have Kenyan students trooping there in droves, what are the students there learning that our children are not getting with the current curriculum as it is.Do we need to modify content on subjects to make the knowledge being imparted more relevant in today’s society?do we need to scale down on the subjects our children are reading in school ?do we need more subjects that are relevant in today’s world?these are the questions that i hope the concerned parties in the education ministry will be asking themselves as we seek for solutions that will prepare the next generation of Kenyans for the future.