Kenya's government announced Thursday that it had fired 25,000 striking health workers from the country's public hospitals for defying an order to return to work.
Some 40,000 workers in all _ among them, nurses, lab technicians, and dental assistants _ launched their strike March 1 over several complaints, including that they are overworked.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the health workers' names have been deleted from the payroll.
"The government has taken this firm action to alleviate further suffering of innocent Kenyans. It is wrong and unethical, regardless of any disagreement, for a health profession to abscond duty and lead to the loss of life and or suffering of any patient," Mutua said.
Mutua asked that any unemployed health professional report to the nearest health facility on Friday to apply for the openings.
Alex Orina of the Kenya Health Professionals Society said the government's announcement is a negotiating tactic and that the government cannot replace 25,000 health workers. He said the health workers are striking because of a heavy workload due to staff shortages, and because of inadequate equipment and supplies.
Orina says some of the nurses have had to deliver babies without surgical gloves, exposing themselves, the mother and the child to infections.
Orina said he could not confirm Kenyan media reports that five people who might otherwise have lived have died during the strike, including reports that a mother and newborn died at the gates of a hospital.
Kenya's government has come under sharp criticism by international groups for not investing enough in health care.
Doctors from public hospitals went on strike late last year to demand better salaries.