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Controversy surrounds the newly launched Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital (KUTRH). The fight for the control of the facility that threatens to derail operations pits the university’s management against the national government.

KUTRH opened its doors last month after years of inactivity that was partly blamed on a shortage of funds to hire personnel and buy additional equipment. KUTRH was set up to operate strictly as a referral hospital as part of Kenyatta University's School of Medicine besides being a medical research centre. And mostly because of that, the model adopted wouldn't cater for walk-in patients, as is the case with the other two referral hospitals -- Kenyatta National Hospital (part of the University of Nairobi's School of Medicine) and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret (part of Moi University's School of Medicine).

Kenyatta University (a parastal) entered into an agreement with the Chinese government for the Sh8.8 billion loan used to build and equip the facility. The understanding was that the first three years of operations would be deemed a grace period as the institution finds its footing before actual repayment begins for the 20-year loan. To the university’s management, therefore, 20 years was sufficient time to repay the loan. Besides that, the institution was transitioning from the Arts to the Sciences and hosting a swanky medical facility would surely elevate its status.

This dream was shattered when President Uhuru Kenyatta issued an Executive Order in January establishing KUTRH as a parastatal, perhaps taking cognizance of its role in achieving the Universal Health Care as part of the Big 4 Agenda. It is that order that set the stage for the controversy over the hospital's management. Don't forget that details of how the loan will be repaid with the switch in ownership are not clear. The university's beef is that the hospital will not meet its objectives if it is run like a parastatal. This concern cannot be dismissed at face value because of the not-so-glorious history of public institutions in the country. Many of them have collapsed because of poor management after they were turned into cash cows for politicians.

Yet despite that, it is not fait accompli that the same fate that has befallen other promising public entities awaits KUTRH. By all means, KUTRH should not be allowed to fail. For that reason, the Government and Kenyatta University should find a common ground to enable the 650-bed capacity hospital, with 21 Intensive Care Units, to operate optimally.

KUTRH KU Referral Hospital
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