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Last words of the young doctor that Kenya let down in life and death

He paid the ultimate price for sacrificing to help keep others alive during the COVID-19 scourge, but in death, just like in life, his family says in a court case that the government, which deployed him to the frontline without adequate protective gear, won’t pay his dues. Stephen Mogusu, 28, was hired by the Ministry of Health as a medical officer on June 25, 2020, at the height of coronavirus but unfortunately would be dead three months after reporting to duty, a casualty of the killer virus he fought in hospital wards. His death on December 7, 2020, sparked public outrage after it emerged he had not been paid his monthly salary since employment.

Mogusu had been hired on a Sh49,000-a-month pay with allowances for a six-month contract. Despite being hauled to the frontline to battle the pandemic without the requisite personal protective equipment (PPE), by the time of his death, he hadn’t received a cent of his five months’ salary. He had been denied admission to a public COVID-19 referral hospital after contracting the deadly virus while treating patients in isolation wards because he couldn’t afford a Sh200,000 deposit. Even after Mogusu’s death, a court has been told the Ministry of Health is still refusing to compensate his family despite prodding by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to settle the claims and terminate the dispute.

With the court-ordered timelines to reach a deal having lapsed, protracted proceedings are inevitable 20 months after the petition was filed further aggravating the pain of his young family. Mogusu’s widow, Jackline Wanjiru, and his sister, Doreen Kerubo, who have the legal authority to administer his estate, sued the Cabinet secretary, Ministry of Health, Public Service Commission and the Attorney General, citing his death was as a result of negligence, including failure to provide him with a medical cover despite the risks in his work. The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union and Kenya Medical Association are named interested parties in the suit filed on October 31, 2022.

In an affidavit dated May 8, 2024, Mr Remmy Mulati, the acting chief executive officer of PSC informed the Employment and Labour Relations court in Nairobi that the commission has twice written to the Ministry of Health, urging an out-of-court settlement. Mr Mulati disclosed that PSC wrote to the ministry through the principal secretary, State Department for Public Health and Professional Standards, on July 24, 2023, asking for discussions with the petitioners. “The commission upon deliberations on the matter and guided by the principles set out in the constitution observed that the deceased having contracted Covid-19 in the course of his employment, his legal representatives are entitled to compensation,” wrote the then PSC CEO Simon Rotich.

“The purpose of this letter is to direct your office to engage the petitioners with a view of settling the matter out of court as it is the only viable option under the circumstances with the potential to bring the current proceedings to a conclusion,” Dr Rotich, who has since left the organisation, wrote to the PS. Ms Mary Muthoni Muriuki is the Principal Secretary for Public Health and Professional Standards. Pursuant to the court’s directions on November 14, PSC again wrote a reminder to the ministry on November 15, 2023. In the letter, Dr Rotich explained to the PS that the matter had come up for mention to confirm settlement before Justice Byram Ongaya on November 13.

“Parties were given the final chance to settle this matter out of court, failure to which parties will be required to file responses to the petition,” Dr Rotich wrote, adding a further mention date of December 13 was given for confirmation of the same. “The purpose of this letter therefore is to direct your office to engage the petitioners with a view of settling the matter as soon as possible before the next mention date in court,” he concluded. The letters are copied to the AG. They were never responded to. Two years after graduating from the University of Nairobi, Mogusu was excited to secure employment as a medical officer at Machakos Level 5 Hospital.

It was a welcome relief for the 2018 Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery graduate who had a young family to fend for. Two months before he had got the job, Mogusu and his wife had been blessed with a baby boy. Even more satisfying was that the job offer was an early birthday gift for the young doctor who was turning 28 on October 17. On the strength of his contract, Mogusu moved with his family to Kisaju, Kajiado from where he would commute to his workplace. But with the salary not forthcoming, he shifted his family to Utawala where he had secured a locum (part-time job) at Komarock Modern Healthcare to supplement his income. This was also closer to his station in Machakos.

“Days passed, months passed and his salary remained unpaid for the entire duration of the contract. The lack of remuneration was not attributable to any valid reason as far as records show,” court papers filed by MNW & Advocates LLP state. Mogusu’s health problems set in on November 14, 2020, when he started complaining of a fever and a sore throat while working at Machakos Hospital. He took a Covid-19 test and later went home to wait for the results, which were to be sent by November 17. However, at around 6pm by November 16, his fever had worsened, which prompted him to go to Komarock Modern Healthcare for further medical attention.

With his situation deteriorating, his family sought to transfer him to Kenyatta University Teaching, Training and Referral Hospital (KUTTRH). “However, on calling the hospital, the administrator informed me that we needed to deposit Sh200,000 for the hospital to admit him to their Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Suffice it to say, we did not have the deposit required by KUTTRH and Dr Mogusu had no option but to stay at Komarock Modern,” the widow says in court papers. On his deathbed, and regretting how his employer had mistreated him despite putting his life on the line to save lives, Mogusu sent out a chilling warning to his colleagues through a WhatsApp group for UHC doctors.

“My dear colleagues, let me take this opportunity to admonish you today to get your pay or get out while you can with your health or life intact. I have had the Covid-19 for five days and I will say not even a full pocket can replenish what has been lost on high O2 (oxygen) flows, all manner of masks and begging for one more gasp of fresh air. Usually I would write and write but today I just want to say save your miserable selves from those institutions, you will live to earn again. I am not in any way inviting arguments or response to my post, I am too weak to type anymore. Save yourselves,” Mogusu wrote in what would be his last conversation to his peers.

It’s only after his plight broke out in social media that an ailing Mogusu was transferred to KUTTRH on December 6. But the following day he succumbed to cardiorespiratory arrest, respiratory failure and severe Covid-19 pneumonia. “By subjecting the deceased to a fatal virus, poverty, trauma and the indignity of battling COVID-19 without either pay or a medical cover, the 1st respondent (Health CS) failed to uphold the national values and principles of human dignity, social justice, equality, human rights, non-discrimination, good governance, integrity and transparency contrary to the express provisions of Article 10(2) (a) and (b) of the Constitution,” the petition argues.

Mogusu’s family has cited nine violations they say authorities committed against the young doctor, including subjecting him to the indignity of battling COVID-19 without either pay or medical cover as well as proper protective gear