Yes, limit state officials and legislators to public hospitals

Kenya’s public healthcare system has been run down by mismanagement. Devolving healthcare to counties following the advent of devolution has not made matters any better. If anything, industrial action involving doctors and nurses is so common, it does not surprise anyone anymore.

In 2015 the government launched a Sh38 billion medical equipment programme that was expected to serve as a turning point for medical services in Kenya. Under a deal dubbed ‘The Managed Equipment Services (MES)’ the national government sought to fully equip two hospitals in each of the 47 counties with dialysis and cancer detection machines. In addition, ultra-modern machines for Intensive Care Units and heart disease diagnostic centres were to be established.

Prior to this, all cancers cases across the country were referred to the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). This resulted in such a long waiting list that many patients died long before their time to be attended to came. The relief that the launch of MES offered was immense. Unfortunately, the scheme has not delivered the promise inherent in it. Yet despite that failure, elected leaders and the government have done little, if anything, to improve the healthcare system.

But then, why would MPs, for instance, bother themselves with improving the public healthcare system when they have a medical insurance cover of Sh10 million that allows them the comfort of seeking specialised medical attention in some of the world’s best hospitals? Wanjiku, who barely makes ends meet, if ever, is left to the mercy of God when serious ailments like cancer come calling. It is a sad state of affairs that calls for immediate attention.

What better place to start than the welcome  proposal by Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba that elected leaders and top government officials be given medical covers limited to local public hospitals?

By limiting what options leaders enjoy when it comes to healthcare, they will have no option but to pay more attention to our erratic, dysfunctional public healthcare system. Those of goodwill among MPs should support Wamuchomba’s proposal by drafting, tabling a motion and canvasing for its adoption. Only then will Wanjiku feel served by the representatives they elected to champion their causes. Rising cases of cancer among Kenya’s poor population are causing great concern, not because cancer is incurable, but because the cost factor is prohibitive. Added to that, is the lack of capacity in public hospitals.

Most of the diagnostic machines supplied to designated hospitals within counties are said to have broken down and their spares are unavailable. In some cases, there is lack of trained personnel to manage the sophisticated medical equipment. It is not better at KNH, East and Central Africa’s premier referral hospital where machine breakdowns have crippled services. This is compounded by the lack of medical stores, poor staffing and working conditions, theft of drugs and professional negligence across all the 47 counties.

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Managing cancer cases should be prioritised. Cancer is one of the leading killers in the country. In 2016 alone, an estimated 15762 succumbed to cancer. Conservative estimate show that from an annual cancer infection rate of 40000 cases, at least 25000 succumb annually.

Healthcare constitutes part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four legacy agenda. The president is committed to attain the Universal Healthcare Goals and has already launched pilot project in four counties. These deliberate efforts need the support of all leaders, starting from the grassroots all the way to the top, to succeed.

Thus, Wamuchomba’s proposal is timely and, if implemented, could go a long way in improving our healthcare system to standards recommended by, especially, the World Health Organisation. The success of this programme, besides political goodwill, depends on the government not only employing more doctors and nurses to meet WHO recommendations of 1 doctor for every 1000 patients, but also good remuneration commensurate with the good but tedious work medical personnel do.

Budgetary allocations to health ought to be increased. No rocket science is needed to understand that a heathy nation is a working nation. The wheels of the economy will turn ever so sluggishly if workers spend all their time and resources in hospitals.

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Managed Equipment ServicesKenyatta National HospitalGathoni wa MuchombaBig Four legacy agendaHealthcare system