Dr Diana Wangari. [iStockphoto]

Let’s go back to the early days of the Covid-19 Pandemic when there was nothing but sheer confusion, panic, superstition, and conspiracy theories.

Here was something – an invisible enemy – that led to the grounding of virtually every flight, the closing of country borders, and in the initial stages, there was no greater sin than coughing or being outside past curfew hours.

Then slowly and specifically, with vaccines developed in record-breaking time, the issue was not so much how we handle this crisis, but how to get enough of the vaccine out quickly enough for your general population.

It was also a time when we realised who Kenya’s real friends were, as not a week would pass by without an ambassador demonstrating their support. Be it the vaccine donations from Denmark, United Kingdom, France, India, China, Greece, USA, Canada, Slovakia, Netherlands, Germany and Argentina or other countries such as Japan’s contribution to cold chain storage functionality. In fact, some African countries also gave Kenya vaccines that were possibly going to expire before administration to the public.

But perhaps, what I found to be most remarkable was that, for the first-time, ordinary Kenyans who mostly use public health facilities, could go online, book an appointment, turn up at the medical facility and be served.

Even when there was a long queue, there was a system that allowed the health workers to confirm that, indeed, you hadn’t received your dose. The icing on the cake is that for most, you would receive an SMS after the administration confirming your next appointment. Aah, we did well. The public health system was at the forefront of the campaign with the private facilities playing catch up.

If you asked many who come from modest circumstances, they would say that was the first time they were treated promptly and with dignity.

In the past, the average Kenyan would be terrified of visiting a hospital for the experience and even more so, the medical bill. We understood for the first time that the government can intervene to save your life without you needing to know someone somewhere or parting with some ‘kitu kidogo’.

If you simply followed the system and were patient, you would get vaccinated. And what’s more, there was a record of it being accessible no matter where you were. If you didn’t find the record, it was probably a lag from the facility and data entry system. We did well.

Then I heard, repeatedly: “Why can’t we be treated this way, at other times. Why did I need to buy a booklet to be the first seen in most public health facilities? Why did I need to take an entire day off work to visit a hospital, only to be told that there was no doctor, no drugs and some tests would have to be conducted at a different facility? But more importantly, why couldn’t I have access to all this information and more from my phone?”

Why was the experience with the healthcare system different?

Most Kenyans were given a glimpse of what the future could look like, what an effective public health system could be and universal health coverage could achieve. Why then are Kenyans still struggling for basic care? Why then is the first stumbling block for the average citizen, the cost of buying a booklet to serve as their patient file?

-- Dr. Diana Wangari dwangari@standardmedia.co.ke