Kenya's public hospitals face a potentially devastating health worker shortage after the government fired 25,000 striking nurses.
The nurses went on strike on March 1 to protest the government's failure to implement a salary increase agreed last year, when they also stopped work to press for improved services in Kenya's mostly ill-equipped public hospitals.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said on Thursday the country "can no longer sit and watch as Kenyans suffer in hospitals without medical attention because nurses and other medical staff are on strike."
"The names of the 25,000 nurses who are on strike have been removed from the pay roll," Mutua said. "They are no longer employees of the government."
Anyang Nyong'o, minister for medical services, said on Thursday that the sacked workers would be required to re-apply if they are to be considered for reappointment.
Termination letters for those who had refused to report on duty for the past three days were already being dispatched, said Nyong'o.
He said that 2,700 dispensaries and 700 health centres were fully back in operation across the country as some health workers resumed duty.
But he admitted that the larger medical facilities were still experiencing challenges. "We have received relevant reports from all our facilities and we know who is in and who is out ... there must be law and order in government,” said Nyong’o said at his Afya House office.
No union official could be immediately reached for comment. It was not immediately clear what proportion of the country's nurses had been fired, but if the job cuts are carried out, the east African nation's public health system will be severely impacted.
The strike has already crippled public hospitals, with patients sometimes being sent home untreated.
Kenyans who can afford it go to private clinics, which are for the most part operating normally.