Kenya has less than a quarter of the doctors and nurses it needs to meet the health requirements of its burgeoning population, a new study shows.
And questions are being raised about the Jubilee Government’s decision to buy state-of-the-art equipment for county hospitals without skilled workers to operate them.
Out of the 138,266 health workers the country requires to provide medical care to all, it only has 31,412 working in the private and public health sectors.
The gaping shortfall of 85 per cent has been exposed in a skills assessment report by the Health ministry, which casts the much-hyped purchase of sophisticated machines five years ago as a blunder.
Because of this skills shortage, the report says, the country cannot provide universal health care.
Assessors hired by the Human Resource Development Unit of the Health ministry visited all counties, except Baringo, and found that the shortage of medical specialist skills was staggering.
With such a dearth of skills, the report – which has just been released in the journal of Human Resources for Health - describes the Sh38 billion supply of high-end diagnostic and treatment machines to county hospitals under the Managed Equipment Service (MES) project, as “a manifestation of weak health system approach to the sector development.”
Under the programme, the national government equipped 98 hospitals - two hospitals in each county and four national referral hospitals- with outsourced specialized state -of-the-art medical equipment.
Depending on the hospital’s level of care (level 4 or 5), the equipment supplied was for theatre, sterilisation and theatre instruments, renal dialysis equipment, Intensive Care Unit (ICU), X-ray and other imaging equipment.
But some county governors resisted the project arguing they had not been consulted and amid questions about the value-for-money.
The study, funded by the Health ministry and USAid, highlights the consequence of the skills shortage and adds: “Ironically, Kenya recently launched a mega $420 million state-of-the-art medical equipment project… to improve access to specialised healthcare services.
It spotlights the mismatch between the equipment project and operator shortage, adding that the shortage of health specialists threatened the country’s ability to attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Kenya Vision 2030 health targets.
Counties with the least number of specialist health workers, the report says, are Turkana, Uasin Gishu, Wajir, Kajiado and Garissa.
Nurses specialised in forensics, dentistry, and accident and emergency are the fewest in the counties while there is no nurse specialised in oncology.
Apart from gynaecologists, plastic surgeons, and BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) nurses, all other specialists either do not exist or are in extremely short supply.
On Thursday the Principal Secretary for Health Julius Korir indicated that the controversial equipment scheme – which was signed off amidst much fanfare - may have failed.
While addressing clinical officers at the launch of their strategic plan in Nairobi Korir said there was a serious shortage of specialists to utilize the expensive equipment.
The new study led by Dr Mumbo Hazel Miseda, assessed specialist skills at 94 county referral hospitals and reported an 85 per cent shortage across the board.