Private hospitals thrive and fleece Kenyans because of corruption at Health ministry
By Clay Muganda
| October 3rd 2021
This is a bit personal. I spent seven of the last ten days in the village. It was the first time I was there since the pandemic and its attendant pandemonium started.
For close to two years, I was holed up in Nairobi, largely indoors, working from home, and listening to the Health Cabinet secretary issuing threats, which probably worked in stemming the spread of the coronavirus because some of us took heed of his advice.
On Wednesday, he was at it again, this time threatening private hospitals that the government “will step in and issue some orders” if they do not stop fleecing Kenyans.
For the period I was holed up in Nairobi, I was in touch with the people in the village, and kept echoing the message from the CS that they need to observe Covid-19 protocols. When the vaccination programme was rolled out, I urged them to get vaccinated.
Of course people in my village are Kenyans, and they have tall tales about the vaccine, and lame excuses why they are avoiding it. As I pointed out here last week, the blame for vaccine apathy especially in the rural areas, lies at the door of the government due to its lacklustre communications strategy.
That the government is doing a poor messaging job to a populace with several axes to grind with it is not in doubt, and the voices in my village just affirmed it.
Medics administering the jab at our sub-county hospital are the most bored lot, for they have the vaccines, but no people to serve. People from my village want to be vaccinated at the local community hospital, which is ideally a private facility. Their lamest excuse is that it is well equipped, thus, if they experience adverse effects, they will get treatment.
The public hospital used to be a health centre/dispensary and was gradually upgraded to a Level Four institution. Ironically, those who can afford the fees at the community hospital—me included—prefer the government one, probably out of habit because it is the one we visited while growing up and have seen it expand.
The two hospitals are about a kilometre apart, in opposite directions, but there are daily wage workers who bypass the government one and go to the private institution because they believe, and rightfully so, that they will not get the services they need, and the less costly medication that will be prescribed will also not be available.
Of course many are the times when the government hospital has medication and provides proper medical care, but experience has taught them not to take chances and just opt to pay more at the private facility.
Again, government’s poor communication strategy plays a role, for, patients do not know whether medication is available.
This kind of scenario is not peculiar to my village. It is the situation in Kenyan townships and towns: residents prefer private hospitals to public ones because of poor service provision and lack of medication.
Actually, Kenyans seek medical care in public hospitals only because they have no money, and that means, they have no choice.
Despite the strides the government has been attempting to make in healthcare provision, truth be told, public healthcare is in the dumps, and the Ministry of Health must take all the blame because of its continued fumbling and bumbling, not forgetting runaway graft at Afya House.
There is nothing wrong with having private hospitals for those who can afford, but it is sinful when they become the main solution to a public problem because the Health ministry is mired in graft.
Also, individuals and entities have invested in the private hospitals, with a sole aim of not making losses, thus, it is equally sinful to berate them because of their fees, as the Health Cabinet secretary did in Kiambu on Wednesday.
It is common knowledge that many private hospitals are owned by doctors employed by the government, senior public servants and individuals backed by people high up in State offices, thus public healthcare has to be mismanaged and underfunded so the private hospitals can get business.
It is hypocritical to blame them for fleecing Kenyans, when the option that is funded by the taxpayers is deliberately run down and human resource working in them severely unmotivated through threats, fiats and low pay.
Had public hospitals been well equipped and staff treated in humane way, private hospitals would not see the need “of making huge profits at the expense of hapless Kenyans”, to quote the Health CS.
Private hospitals also cannot claim to be totally innocent. It is true they are filling a void created by the incompetence and greed of State employees, but they unashamedly take undue advantage of the suffering and kill them softly with depression and mental anguish.
Even then, the buck stops at Afya House where the CS must take responsibility for the failure of the public healthcare system due to corruption, and not issue threats to private businesses whose sole aim is not making losses.
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