Patients flock to public hospitals for free services

Governor Alfred Mutua visits a mother and her baby at Mbiuni community hospital in Mwala sub-county. [Erastus Mulwa, Standard]

It is 9.35am Monday morning when Rose Katunge joins hundreds of patients at Kangundo Level 4 Hospital’s out-patient waiting area.

By her side is her seven-year-old son who sustained burns on his left arm at the weekend.

Despite having arrived in the hospital at around 7.30am, her check-in ticket indicates she is number 137 as more patients continue to stream into the facility.

Armed with her universal health coverage (UHC) membership card, 37-year-old Katunge is confident her son will access treatment free of charge – a major milestone that was realised about a year ago.

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Machakos is one of four counties selected for the pilot UHC programme, which was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in December last year.

As a result, the county has seen a sharp rise in the number of patients seeking medical services in public health institutions.

Katunge said the availability of quality free health services had enabled more residents to access timely medical interventions.

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It has also eased the financial burden on many families that would have not been able to pay for treatment and drugs.

“This was a noble idea from the Jubilee administration because it touches the lives of the poorest in society. We hope the Government will ensure the programme is rolled out across the country to ensure all Kenyans benefit,” she said.

She added: “Since January this year, we have been walking into any public hospital and leaving after being treated and issued with drugs without paying a cent. This is one of the areas where the Government has performed very well.”

Recorded upsurge

Health Executive Ancent Kituku said about 1.2 million residents have signed up for the UHC programme, adding that nearly half of them had used their UHC cards to access services in public health facilities.

“We have recorded a significant upsurge in hospital visits by residents, which is directly attributed to the free health care plan under UHC. We have recorded a 40 per cent increase in the number of patients visiting hospitals compared to the same period last year.

“The health department through Governor Alfred Mutua’s leadership has equipped all public health facilities with drugs, equipment and health personnel to cope with the increasing demands for services,” said Dr Kituku.

The health boss also lauded the role being played by health volunteers deployed to community health units.

“Their role is in health promotion and disease prevention intervention. They also refer patients from the community to level two facilities,” he said.

The executive said that to improve the quality of services, diagnosis and clinical management of various cases, the department of health and emergency services had designed an elaborate patient referral system to avoid overcrowding in level four and five facilities.

Last week, Dr Mutua opened 10 new community hospitals that were upgraded from health centres to accommodate mini-theatres, female and male wards, X-ray services, maternity as well as cancer screening services, among others.

“Our target is to have a community hospital in each ward to reduce the distance residents travel to seek critical healthcare in level four hospitals,” Mutua said.

The governor promised that more health professionals would be employed to ensure all health centres have a medical officer who can perform minor surgeries and also offer better quality treatment.

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universal health coveragePresident Uhuru Kenyattapublic healthMachakos