A year after the ambitious Sh4 billion comprehensive medical cover for public secondary schools students was unveiled by President Uhuru Kenyatta, the scheme remains another unattainable dream by the ambitious Jubilee government.
Today, pledges made all those months ago at an elaborate ceremony at the country’s seat of power, State House, that sought to provide an out–patient cover, specialised and referral services cover -- including drug and substance abuse rehabilitation services -- remain a mirage for hundreds of thousands of students countrywide.
Currently, students in public schools that were part of the initial plan of health coverage have been forced to foot their medical bills, a fact that has left both parents and teachers confused on the fate of the health plan that was thought to offer some relief.
Some of the parents who spoke to Saturday Standard said their children had been referred home for treatment despite being in public schools and therefore eligible to the scheme.
Julie Okoth, whose 16 year old daughter suffers from diabetes, says she was relieved when the government announced that the students will be covered by NHIF.
When she read that the students will access health care at medical institutions nearby, she knew that her many trips and sudden leaves from work to go and attend to her child were coming to an end. That is until her daughter got sick in February, months after the declaration had been made, and she was called.
“The headteacher told me that I had to pick my daughter and take her to hospital since they had not been given NHIF cards. I have decided to use my private cover. They lied to us,” she said.
Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (KESSHA) Chairman Alfred Indimuli said although the cover had picked in some schools, the head teachers were still required to write letters to the hospital for the students to be given exemptions for any form of treatment.
“Students do not have cards, so when they have to get treatment, the head teachers will have write to introduce the students for them to be treated,” said Indimuli.
Initially, the system was supposed to use the Unique Personal Identifiers (UPI) numbers which, together with the NHIF cards, would help the medical facilities serve students, he said.
While launching the programme last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the cover will ensure that the students access quality health services, easing the burden from their parents and guardians.
“Since students are expected to be in school most of the time, the provider must ensure they have access to medical services close to school,” Uhuru had directed.
But dozens of parents interviewed by Saturday Standard indicated that their children had been repeatedly sent home on different occasions to be treated.
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In the original arrangement, NHIF was supposed to register up to three million students whose details would be synchronised with those collected through the National Education Management Information System (Nims) to address the issues of eligibility for the cover.
Grace Agolla, who is the caregiver of her younger brother who is in form three at Maliera Boys High School in Siaya, said they were never informed of how the cover is supposed to work.
“We were excited because it meant they were lifting a big weight from us. Sadly, the excitement died soon after because nothing has been forthcoming,” she said.
Stakeholders in the health sector have critiqued the need to have a cover specifically designed for a small segment of the population.
Dr Ouma Oluga, the Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmarcists and Dentists Union (KMDU), observed that the Sh4 billion would have gone a great length at helping the entire population rather than only allocating funds for the "least vulnerable" at the expense of more needy cases.
“Sh4 billion would have better covered the parents, and this would ensure that all their children below 18 were covered and would benefit from NHIF,” said Dr Oluga.
A doctor at Kenyatta Hospital, Oluga said he once treated a woman from Kiambu who was not covered by NHIF and could not afford Sh600,000 procedures while her son was covered. “This is absurd. Priority should have been given to parents who cannot afford NHIF charges, because the cover would extend to their children. President Kenyatta’s advisers have misled him on the medical scheme,” said Oluga.
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He said the scheme could be a ploy to defraud taxpayers given that there were possibility for the medical institutions to bill both the covers of the student and that of their parent.
A senior official at the Ministry of Education said the scheme was going on well and that some students had used the cover to access treatment, some of them abroad.
“As far as the ministry is concerned, no student from the public secondary school had and should be denied access to medical treatment,” said the official.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha is currently out of the country while his PS Belio Kipsang did not respond to our queries. Acting NHIF CEO Nicodemus Odongo, through the head of communication Phylis Nyaboke, promised to send a statement that would address the fears and concerns of parents, teachers and students. But by the time of going to press, the government agency had not sent any communication to this regard.