By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (Reuters) - Tanzania will send 500 doctors to Kenya to help overcome the effects of a strike in public hospitals, the Tanzanian president's office said on Saturday.
Kenya's doctors went on strike in public hospitals on Dec. 5 over pay and working conditions. A deal struck this week opened the way to negotiations to end the strike, but many doctors are still not back at work.
The strike means many public hospitals, already stretched for cash and materials, have had to turn away some patients. The situation threatened to undermine Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's bid for a second term this August.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli approved Kenya's request for more doctors after he met Kenya's health minister, Cleopas Mailu, in Dar es Salaam on Saturday.
"Tanzania has accepted Kenya's request for 500 doctors to help the country deal with a shortage of doctors at its medical centres following a doctors' strike," the statement from Magufuli's office said.
"Kenya's problems are Tanzania's problems," Magufuli was quoted as saying.
Kenya will pay the Tanzanian doctors and provide them housing, the statement said. Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said Tanzania had many qualified, unemployed doctors.
The Kenyan Health Ministry and the Kenyan doctors' union were unavailable for comment.
On Friday, there were only two doctors on duty at the Kenyatta National Hospital, the biggest public hospital in the country, a nurse told a Reuters reporter.
"We can give you some pain relief but it will be a long time before you see a doctor," she cautioned a bleeding, screaming car accident victim as hospital staff inspected a deep cut to her leg.
(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Stephen Powell)