Why we cannot afford to compromise on the health of our youth

At some point, the construction of Panama Canal, which began in 1903, almost ground to a halt.

The French, who had successfully completed construction of the Suez Canal, believed that the Panama Canal would be similar and embarked on it with zeal.

Upon completion, the canal would link the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, boosting strategic trade in the region.

Ships plying between the east coast and the west coast of the US previously had to make the treacherous journey of about 13,000 miles around the Cape Horn in South America.

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The completion of the canal would provide a more convenient alternative, making shipping faster, cheaper and less treacherous and subsequently improving the business environment at that time.

Trade ships would be able to cut down on travel time by over a month and travel 5,200 miles less through the Isthmus of Panama.

However, the construction of the canal proved to be a challenge because the Isthmus of Panama where the canal was to be built was swarming with tropical diseases such as yellow fever and malaria.

First year

During the first year of the construction, more than 22,000 people died and the French had to shelve the project for some time.

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When the US took over the project in 1904, it instituted a series of measures to take care of its workers’ health. Subsequently, the project went on smoothly.

The project was a success because the health of the workers came first.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where we may not have to deal with debilitating health epidemics as we did in the 19th century, thanks to advancements in technology, health and medicine.

However, we study history so that we can learn from the mistakes of those who went before us and avoid repeating them. The lesson we learn from the Panama Canal story is that health is an important pillar for the well-being of any society.

Any efforts at economic progress cannot be realised if citizens are still grappling with health issues. In Kenya, many young people spend a lot of time dealing with the frustrations that come with accessing health care.

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In the same way that a major infrastructure project could not be completed without guaranteeing the health of workers during the construction of the Panama canal, our nation can only prosper if our young people have unlimited access to health services at an affordable cost.

It is imperative that the Government institutes measures to ensure that the youth, who form the bulk of our population, has unfettered access to holistic healthcare services.

Just like in the 19th century, we are still grappling with many health concerns, even though of a different nature. The uncertainties of a rapidly evolving world are giving rise to a youthful population plagued by a myriad of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, non-communicable diseases like cancer and diabetes continue to exert immense social and financial pressure on many families.

High cost

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The high cost of health care has discouraged many young people from seeking services. Many have resorted to self-medication, drugs and alcohol, leading to a vicious cycle that renders them unproductive.

Furthermore, a superstitious attitude towards some health issues also makes many young people shy away from getting regular medical check-ups that would save their lives and prevent further complications.

The launch of Universal Health Care cannot have come at a better time. But we must ensure that the launch is accompanied by rigorous awareness building, so that young people know how they can enroll and what benefits they stand to gain from the programme.

They also need to know how they can access these services.

Regardless of their financial capacity, they should be able to walk into any public hospital any day and seek help on a broad range of health issues.

Lest, we forget, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. Let us learn from the past that we cannot compromise on the health of our society.

Mr Mokamba comments on social issues.

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