Covid-19 should be turning point for health sector

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Paramedics disinfect a stretcher. Photo/AFP

Florence Syevuo 

Ten years ago, Kenyans voted in a new constitution that was signed into law by the then President Kibaki. It introduced a devolved system of government.

According to the Constitution, these county governments are interdependent and undertake their relations through consultation and cooperation. 

Consequently, healthcare was devolved. Kenya, through national, regional and global treaties, has committed to attaining high standards of health accessible to all citizens.

In 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) pilot programme that seeks to enable Kenyans access affordable healthcare under the auspices of the Big Four agenda.

This pilot project was launched in Kisumu, Nyeri, Isiolo and Machakos counties and it is expected that key lessons from these counties will inform the rapid scale-up to the rest of the country. 

With the UHC card, Kenyans in the four pilot counties have been able to access various health services in facilities across the country.

This is in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3: Good Health and Well Being.

The goal, among other things,  targets to reduce global maternal mortality, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years and end communicable diseases. 

Against this, the Government Voluntary National Review 2017 to the United Nations High Level Political Forum reported gains made in regards to maternal mortality with the ratio at 362 per 100,000 live births.

Further, under-five mortality rate is 52 per 1000 live births and neonatal mortality is 22 per 1000 live births.

Under communicable diseases, tuberculosis incidence per 1,000 population was 90 in 2015 while the number of new HIV infections per 1,000 uninfected is 240.

While this progress points to a healthier nation, in light of the current Covid-19 crisis, our healthcare system has started to show cracks, with concerns raised over the country’s preparedness to handle critical patients, especially in counties. 

Before the Covid-19 global crisis, only 24 counties had functional ICUs. Further, the total number of ICU beds stood at 162 in the counties, with 22 counties lacking ICU facilities. 

In total, Kenya had a total of 518 ICU beds in both private and public health centres. Should Covid-19 cases increase, hospitals will be overwhelmed as seen elsewhere.

According to the 2019 Civil Society led Second Progress Report on SDGs Implementation in Kenya by the SDGs Kenya Forum and its partners, Kenya’s human resource in the health sector has been characterised by understaffing and frequent industrial strikes.

It is frightening that most of our medics are risking their lives to be at the front line to fight Covid -19 without protective gear. Additionally, the response mechanisms to Covid-19 has fallen short of the Leave No One Behind approach.

People living in informal settlements have no access to water and cannot practically practice social distance. 

However, some of the solutions by the government to some of the challenges have been encouraging such as mass testing.

As everyone adjusts their lives, it is our hope that when Kenya overcomes the virus, stakeholders will rethink health funding, infrastructure and workforce not only for pandemic preparedness but for daily healthcare needs for all Kenyans,. —The writer is the Country Coordinator, SDGs Kenya Forum

More on News