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Ailing Kenyans are dying because the government does not care much

By Alexander Chagema | Published Thu, July 26th 2018 at 00:00, Updated July 25th 2018 at 18:32 GMT +3

To fly a critically ill patient from Wajir to Nairobi in an air ambulance for specialised treatment costs approximately Sh1 million. A caesarean section in the so called ‘upmarket’ hospitals goes for about Sh100,000. Some patients on life support machines in private hospitals accumulate bills of Sh200,000 a day.

Dialysis costs about Sh10,000 a session. Many such patients require weekly sessions, translating the cost to Sh40,000 a month.

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Nairobi Hospital. [Photo/Courtesy]

The cost of chemotherapy ranges between Sh6, 000 and Sh600,000 a session, depending on the hospital and medication involved. Some private hospitals charge Sh50, 000 a week for radiotherapy.

And in Government-sponsored hospitals, simple routine tests cost upwards of Sh1, 500. These are gloomy statistics in a country where almost three-quarters of the workforce earns a gross pay of less than Sh30, 000 a month; in a country where 70 per cent of the youthful population is unemployed.

A March 2018 report by the National Bureau of Statistics says that seven million Kenyans in the employable age bracket (15 to 64 years) are jobless. Only 19 million of the over 45 million Kenyans constitute the labour force but, sadly, in the low-cadre, poorly-paid bracket.

With non-existent or diminished earning power, battered by a high cost of living and an exponential growth in diseases that seem to target them, most brought on by bureaucratic incompetence and greed, how ordinary Kenyans are expected to stay in good health and productive beats common sense.

Demand better

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Most of the northern parts of Kenya have just begun to recover from the effects of neglect, thanks to the advent of devolution. Attendant to that neglect has been a rise in diseases, illiteracy levels and banditry, which have consigned whole communities to misery, yet all they needed was a little security and financial boost to help them keep apace with the development of the rest of the country. That, however, is not to say the rest of the country has recorded phenomenal growth.

With poverty levels in the stratosphere, how is that poor family in northern Kenya expected to airlift a loved one to Nairobi for specialised treatment, seeing as the state of hospitals there is nothing to write home about? How is that Kenyan whose net pay is Sh15,000 expected to cater for a Sh200,000 daily medical bill?

Should they resign themselves to fate or demand better from a government renowned for allowing a handful of well-connected individuals to pilfer billions of shillings from public coffers?

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While submitting that there is nothing out of the ordinary that a hospital does to justify charging these diabolical rates, the Government needs to take the health of Kenyans seriously. The bottom line is that productivity and economic growth are tied to the good health of workers and the general population.

An ailing worker is a drag on his or her employer. That sick villager upcountry will not tend to his farm to boost our food security. A teacher absent from duty because of illness is a contributing factor to inertia in the education sector, besides other factors such as poor pay and working conditions.

Unburdening citizens

An ailing nation is of no use to the actualization of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s big four agenda, namely; manufacturing, healthcare, affordable housing and food security. In order of preference, I would put healthcare at the top of the list and allocate a bigger chunk of the budget with a view to unburdening citizens.

The necessity for visiting exploitative private medical facilities arises from the fact that government hospitals suffer neglect. Not just staffing, but medical stores are a problem as patients are required to purchase their own medication.

The National Hospital Insurance Fund, of itself, is not enough. Attaining the much publicized Universal Health Coverage should go beyond the paper stage where most government projects start and end. We need to take cognizance of the fact that intent and actualization are diametrically opposed and require dedication and sacrifice to synchronize for effective delivery.

Rather than be the shame of the health sector, the government should go out of its way to upgrade the public health system into something Kenyans came be proud of. The advocacy is not so much on free services, but on affordability and availability.

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There is so much money going to wastage through corruption, plugging that sink hole will be a boost to the health sector were such money to be channeled there. Budgets set aside for white elephant projects, ideally conduits for theft of public money like the National Youth Service will guarantee returns if invested in healthcare.

Technological advances have smothered some of the state corporations into irrelevancy, yet they continue to get allocations. Diverting such money to healthcare is a better proposition.

Over time, the risk of war between neighbouring countries has been diminished. Objectively therefore, cutting the military budget by half , considering that all its hardware is unused and intact, to fund healthcare  will bear dividends.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

 


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