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Yes, affordable healthcare is no rocket science

By Gathenya Njaramba | Published Sun, February 25th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 24th 2018 at 23:42 GMT +3
[Photo: Courtesy]

That the cost of healthcare continues to devastate families in Kenya cannot be gainsaid. Previously well-to-do individuals have been reduced to paupers by escalating costs of medication. The poor have not been spared either and their suffering is more pronounced because majority end up dying from diseases that could be addressed with enough resources. How we address that imbalance in healthcare should be a major concern for the Government, the Health Ministry, medical practitioners and the health insurers, both private and public.

Stakeholder engagement should always have in mind the huge gap between the rich and the destitute. It is also unfair that cartel-like healthcare providers have denied majority of Kenyans decent medication by hiking the cost of treatment and drugs. It is common knowledge that some medical establishments are making a kill from the sick without flinching. They exaggerate consultation fees, cost of drugs and even propose expensive procedures, especially if a patient has a health insurance cover. It is callous to seek abnormal profits from an ailing man or woman, but this does not mean a career in medicine should not pay.

The government and the society has watched helplessly as capitalists invade the health sector and make treatment so expensive for the majority. Now, as President Uhuru Kenyatta embarks on his final term, universal healthcare is one of his Big Four agenda. Previous regimes have attempted to make health insurance accessible to majority of Kenyans, but they have flopped due to various reasons. In the past, corruption, lack of political goodwill and lack of visionary leadership have conspired to kill this dream.

The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) has promised to increase the number of Kenyans on its cover from the current 26 million to about 46 million by 2020. This is ambitious but achievable through effective administration of the fund and transformative leadership. The public insurer must also embrace reforms and completely shun ways of the past, where the fund was sometimes turned into a political cash cow. The mandarins had no regard for the poor folks and would walk into the fund and grab millions of shillings to finance campaigns. In recent past, however, despite a few hiccups here and there, Kenyans now appreciate holding an NHIF card and keeping the monthly payments up to date.

Quality care

That said the onus is on Kenyans to demand affordable healthcare. A social media group that I am in, of former childhood friends, has come together to raise money for one of us who despite having a thriving music career a few years ago, has today been thrown into debt and depression due to a costly mental condition. And just before we could hold our first meeting, TV personality and one of our role models while growing up, Louis Otieno came out and appealed for medical help. Good people, we can no longer continue burying our heads in the sand.

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The rising number of Kenyans putting out medical appeals should prick the nation’s conscience. We could start be studying how India, a country of over 3 billion people, established such as an effective and affordable health system that even developed nations seek to emulate the Asian model. Indeed, majority of Kenyans who can afford, fly out to India for treatment. How did they get it right with such a huge population to take care of? It can be replicated here, but only by committed Kenyans.

For instance, February is the cancer prevention month, and various stakeholders have held campaigns to enlighten Kenyans on the disease. What has the Ministry of Health, the national and county governments committed to do to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients? Are there enough facilities to treat the condition? Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki must quickly get an effective way of working with the 47 county governments. 

- The writer is Revise Editor at The Standard, Weekend Editions. [email protected]