Gaps in healthcare a threat to Uhuru’s ‘Big Four’ agenda

During a visit to Cuba by President Uhuru Kenyatta, he struck a deal that would later see about 100 Cuban doctors deployed to serve in the 47 counties.

The move met mixed reactions, with skeptics questioning whether it would help resuscitate the ailing public health sector.

Today, these doctors are struggling with a heavy workload in most regions. Some referrals that end up congesting major hospitals could be treated at sub-county level but this hasn’t been the case.

When a nearby district hospital has no capacity to handle a case, then it is referred to the next referral hospital.

According to KMPDU, more than 1,000 doctors are not employed yet the country is sourcing for doctors elsewhere.

The key questions are; why are doctors unemployed yet the county has a shortage? How do these doctors survive? Are they practising in private clinics without the knowledge of their union?

Kenya’s health sector is divided into two social sectors - private and public. Sadly, more than half of the population relies on the public sector which at many times leaves them dissatisfied with services.

When the health sector was devolved, it was assumed that services would trickle down closer to people and there would be better delivery.

But sadly, things have not changed. In fact, if one interviews people on the ground. Some still wish the national government was in charge.

Many governors, even those with medical background, do not give the health sector the attention it deserves.

Delay of salaries, lack of infrastructure and inadequate personnel dominate the list of shame in some of the remote health facilities. These challenges are actually a threat to President Kenyatta’s big four agenda.

Northern and Eastern regions are among areas where doctors who get deployed are exposed to insecurity coupled with other teething hardships.

With these problems, innocent Kenyans are suffering. For instance in, Isiolo County’s Merti area, there are no functional ambulances.

There is no doctor. Patients who need urgent care, including caesarean sections, have to make do with clinical officers. With no blood transfusion services, what happens to women who need blood transfusion during delivery? They either die or by the time they reach Isiolo District Hospital, they will be waiting upon God’s hand to deliver them from misery.

In this region, even free maternity services offered by the government aren’t something to celebrate. Women deliver through assistance by traditional birth attendants and those who develop complications in the process have no option but to wait for the worst.

Isiolo County is part of the Universal Health Coverage health pilot project that Kenya rolled out recently. It is now clear, increasingly, that Kenya’s health sector ails because of lack of commitment by many of its leaders, especially at county level. There have been complaints by the public about mistreatment and medical mistakes which no one takes responsibility for. Change of attitude and commitment are some of the virtues that patients wish to see in health facilities. These commitments can only come when corruption is eliminated.

Citizens should know their rights and county governments should seek assistance from he national government in areas they cannot handle. It is said Cuba has one of the best health systems in the world, what lessons do we learn from Cuba? Let us hope these Cuban doctors will make a difference.

Majority of Kenyans, in rural and urban areas, cannot afford the high cost of healthcare in private facilities. When health was devolved, this was expected to be big relief but it hasn’t. Many health facilities continue to face challenges that the authorities are fully aware of. Most governors seem to be clueless on how to run and manage health in their respective counties.

- The writer is a communications consultant