Sickly healthcare system requires urgent treatment

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019 00:00 |
Ministry of Health. Photo/Courtesy

Charles Onyango   

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) have emerged as the strongest threat to public health in recent years, affecting mostly poor families. According to clinical data, NTDs take a toll on patients’ physical and cognitive development, limits their productivity, and contribute to death. 

Being located on tropical geography, Kenya is not immune to the NTDs conundrum. 

In 2016, Kenya adopted the “NTD Master Plan”. In a colourful ceremony attended by local and foreign experts, our health officials boldly assured they would galvanise the efforts to eliminate the NTDs that pose a significant health threat by 2020.

We are yet to see these commitments translate into scalable achievements. 

One would argue that, in the era of modern medicine, a responsive public health master plan would be one structured on strong institutional measures tailored towards bolstering responses towards the reality of NTDs.

The measures should touch on investment in investigation, detection and tracking of this disease, identification of their etiologic agents and modes of transmission and the creation of prevention and control strategies. 

To date, Kenya has not invested resources in building epidemiologic capacity and strong laboratory as the core prerequisites of our healthcare sector to effective surveillance systems for NTDs. 

Corrupt elements

 I was recently invited to read a well-crafted and insightful essay. In the essay, a passionate budding writer describes our healthcare system as “inadequate and exorbitant”.

The author, David Jesse, submits, rightly so, that our healthcare infrastructure has been infiltrated by a cliché of corrupt elements whose illicit activities have exacerbated the inflated cost of accessing healthcare, rendering it out of reach for those from the lower social strata. 

Jesse is a pharmacy student at the Kenyatta University, who has had a brief professional experience around our healthcare system. 

Adequate healthcare is a universal human right. There is a general consensus that Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is the most effective way of dealing with the ills that bedevil our healthcare infrastructure.

However, as of now, this remains a “policy speculation”, and the UHC is largely a political trite suggestion. This reality, coupled with a heritage of impunity, has led to what Jesse describes in his essay as “infiltration of poor quality and counterfeit drugs in the Kenyan market”. 

We have a public health system that is not well-resourced and which, sadly, comfortably rests on a colonial-type foundation that plays “game of chess” with the precious lives of vulnerable Kenyans, manifested in incredibly porous regulatory scrutiny, and very weak capacity building. 

Sector on autopilot

Hence, the healthcare system has been increasingly porous to NTDs, and lately, been permissible to cancers of infectious origin that are demonstrably preventable, and many re-current infectious diseases. 

Our healthcare system is on auto-pilot, with corrupt elements making the loudest noises with “UHC trite suggestions”. 

 Yet Kenya, self-proclaimed East Africa’s “economic powerhouse” is generous when it comes to deploying her doctors to showcase their expertise in the fight against Ebola elsewhere. - Writer is a junior life scientist

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