Political goodwill vital in realising health for all
Two years ago Kenya took huge steps towards the Universal Health Care (UHC), with President Uhuru Kenyatta signing the charter in December 2018. Kenya positioned herself as a leader in the UHC strategy adopted internationally as one of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
With a target of 2022, a very ambitious commitment towards inclusive healthcare for all, the pilot program of UHC in four counties- Kisumu, Isiolo, Machakos and Nyeri- came to an end in April this year.
These four counties were chosen because collectively they have a high prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases, high population density, high maternal mortality, and high incidence of road traffic injuries.
Kenya will join the world in celebrating World UHC day on December 12, 2020 under the theme, health for all: protect everyone.
This comes at a time when Kenya is in a critical health crisis not just because of the worst pandemic that has claimed lives, disrupted economic and social activities across the world but also because of poor health systems, lack of good will among political leaders and hypocritical stand in fighting the deadly virus.
Our health system has been dogged with numerous challenges, key among them being poor referral system, where citizens seeking medical care bypass primary care facilities to get to referral care hospitals for illnesses that could easily be treated at primary care level; critical shortage of healthcare workers with the World Health Organization estimating that there is one doctor for every 10,000 people and one nurse for every 1,000 people; and poorly distributed of these workers across the 10,000 gazetted health facilities, leading to low-quality treatment especially in remote regions.
Other reasons are poor wages, ill-equipped facilities and understaffing leading to demoralisation and burnout among these professionals.
Kenya also suffers from unending strikes among healthcare workers fueled by poor governance.
Nurses and clinical officers downed their tools on December 7 over lack of sufficient Personal Protective Equipment for those at frontline in the war against Covid-19, while on the side Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union has threatened to mobilise a strike over the same and over medical insurance cover among other bare minimums.
It is shameful and insensitive for political leaders at national and county level to continue with the Building Bridges Initiative rhetoric’s while calls from healthcare workers fall on deaf ears.
Covid-19 has reinforced existing evidence that under-investment in healthcare has potential devastating large-scale national, social and economic effects that could last for years.
The 2020 UHC Day theme calls for protection of everyone amid the pandemic, despite their financial or social status.
Prioritising health and equity, and health systems that protect everyone is a political choice, our leaders should come into terms that good health is both an outcome and a driver of economic and social progress which they all promise to Kenyans.
It is, therefore, important for the political class to end the formal and informal rallies and focus on addressing the devastating health crisis, by urgently responding to the healthcare workers grievances, prioritise mechanisms to end the re-occurrence of such and build resilient health system. — The writer is a Reproductive Health Advocate