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Time to prioritise affordable, accessible healthcare

Friday, September 4th, 2020 00:00 |
Health ministry headquarters in Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

Dr Jeldah Nyamache

There is common saying in Kenya: you are only one illness away from poverty.

It is a damning assessment of any country’s healthcare system when most people cannot afford the cost of accessing healthcare. 

Quality healthcare has been so expensive for many people in Kenya for so long that they have lost faith in it.

Since the country’s independence, getting diagnosed with a serious illness comes with automatic stress from possible outcomes including complications and even death.

This is worsened by heavy costs that may cause or worsening poverty. Most people have no choice but to spend their savings and ask friends and relatives to fundraise to pay for the hospital bills.

It is even worse when the patient is someone who has already been living in poverty because  there are no savings to start from and there are  probably living in debt. 

Not giving healthcare the attention it deserves is hurting our country. Inadequate staffing, supplies and infrastructure are some issues we are grappling with.

Where we have health workers, they lack equipment and supplies to deliver service to best of their potential.

Where supplies are availed, quality is questionable just as we have recently witnessed with personal protective equipment in fight against Covid-19. 

As early as 2001, Kenya as a member of the African Union, signed the Abuja Declaration where she and other countries pledged to allocate at least 15 per cent of annual budgets towards healthcare.

At the time, most countries were reacting to a general under-funding of the sector, including the HIV/Aids pandemic which had taken a toll on the continent.

Well, almost 20 years down the line, and with a lot of effort going into it, Kenya’s overall spending on healthcare has been straddling between six and seven per cent of such budgets.

Of note; health budgets and funds have been the subject of reports with glaring  lack of integrity and accountability . 

As a citizen therefore; the hope for affordable quality healthcare seems difficult to hold on to.

Even the National Health Insurance programme  rolled out years ago to improve accessibility to affordable health care for members has been rocked by countless challenges.

Universal Healthcare Coverage is another important initiative to consider.

It is now listed as a main development pillar and means that quality health care is going to get more attention.

Its actualisation will depend on integrity and accountability of responsible stakeholders.  

In this pandemic response, our country commendably took stringent measures immediately. It was likely informed by known shortcomings of an already vulnerable healthcare system.

Outside private facilities and national referral hospitals, many facilities lacked ventilators, intensive care beds and trained personnel.

It still is an ongoing hurdle to get all counties to set aside 300 beds dedicated to management of Kenyans who may contract the infection. 

The pandemic has taken a toll on economies and health systems globally. It threatens any gains that may have been made previously and we still have a long way to go.

It would have and still could serve as a good opportunity to reflect on how we handle the many challenges the healthcare sector faces as a country; especially funding. 

I still remain hopeful that good quality, essential healthcare for every Kenyan citizen can be achieved.

While it is now a priority, resource allocation, accountability and integrity need to come in for actualisation of plans.

This will contribute to keeping us not only more prepared for emergencies but keeping the population healthier, including  taking care of other illnesses and eventually a positive contribution to the economy. 

After all, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. — The writer is a medical doctor in Kenya

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