Our top priority now should be healthcare

I recently listened to Prof PLO Lumumba give his opinion on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and related debates. He expectedly talked about many eye-opening issues that relate to the proposed constitutional amendment and the referendum. But one of the things that stood out for me was his view on the urgency with which the proponents of the referendum were pushing for the vote.

He opined that ‘Kenya is not winding up’ and that the referendum can wait a little longer, adding that there are many more pressing issues to focus on right now. He suggested the day after the 2022 General Election when Kenyans can vote in the referendum.

These sentiments got me thinking about recent developments in the health sector and particularly the plight of healthcare professionals on the frontline in the fight against Covid-19. The top priority for the country right now should be the health of Kenyans and most importantly the well-being of the healthcare professionals risking their lives every day to ensure as many lives as possible are saved from not only Covid-19 but also other diseases.

Healthcare professionals across the world have found themselves in uncharted territories and they, more than ever before, need every support they can get.

Kenya’s healthcare systems are facing unprecedented challenges that can only be surmounted by selfless decisions of the political class and Kenyans in general. The recent exponential increase in the mortality rates among Covid-19 positive doctors calls for the need to improve the capacity of all healthcare providers to deliver services without jeopardising their own lives.

The increased loss of the country’s qualified doctors to this pandemic should worry the government enough to put a lot more resources towards ensuring every healthcare professional feels safe enough to attend to needs of their patients. Beyond their physical well-being, the frontline workers must no doubt go through major psychological trauma that comes with attending to patients in these uncertain times.

Their families too need psychosocial support to deal with the mental anguish they must endure knowing the volatility of their loved ones’ current work environment.

Unfortunately, the country is still debating the BBI, with a proposed referendum estimated to cost the taxpayer billions of shillings. This even as many people struggle to manage the physical and emotional burdens of nursing Covid-19 as others endure the anxiety that comes with the increased possibility of contracting the disease.

Even more unfortunate, it seems Kenyans’ woes are just about to get worse as the national health insurer National Hospital Insurance Fund does not cover the cost of treating Covid-19 due to what it terms financial improbability.

It is estimated that the daily unit cost of managing at home a patient with mild to moderate Covid-19 is Sh1,995. This cost goes up to Sh7,417 when the patient is managed in a hospital isolation centre.

Intensive care for a Kenyan critically ill with the disease is estimated at Sh59,369 per day. According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 23.4 million Kenyans are multi-dimensionally poor, lacking at least three basic needs, services and rights.

Given the high cost of managing Covid-19 even for the well-to-do, many poor Kenyans lucky to survive as well as their kin are likely to be left more destitute by the ravages of the disease. In the worst of cases, many families will be impoverished and still lose their loved ones.


Extraordinary times

As the world races against time to find the most effective vaccine for Covid-19, the government should give first priority to the health of Kenyans. Besides ensuring the procurement and distribution of enough personal protective equipment for all the frontline workers, there is a need to consider mobilisation of more funds to lessen the burden of managing Covid-19 for the ordinary Kenyan.

Consider at the very least, subsidising the cost for the ordinary members of the national health insurer and their beneficiaries. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

As the late Prof George Saitoti once said, ‘there comes a time when the nation is more important than an individual’. Rather than channel billions of shillings towards the BBI and the proposed referendum right now, the government should put the well-being of the nation first and ensure every Kenyan who tests positive for Covid-19 get proper care. After all, dead people do not vote.


Dr Kalangi is a communications lecturer and trainer, Kenyatta University


Covid 19 Time Series


Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021