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With the right leaders, we can beat India in medical tourism

 A group of doctors doing internal eye surgery on a four-year-old at Kenyatta National Hospital, in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Kenya has been in the election mood for a couple of months. Indeed, keen observers will tell you that the country has been wallowing in this state since the last general election in 2017.

During their campaigns, poltical candidates gave much focus to the health agenda and, without blinking an eyelid, wowed the electorate with their roadmaps; their plans to reinvigorate the healthcare system.

Kenyans are now yearning for the implementation of the manifestos that their elected leaders fronted during the campaigns. It will be a glossy public relations con job if the manifestos gather dust in the minds of the elected honchos. As a watchdog who has been paid wholesomely by patriotism, I will track these promises to confirm whether they are implemented.

The framers of Kenya Vision 2030 envisioned the development of health and medical tourism in the country. This was envisaged since Kenya stood at a vantage point of becoming a giant medical refuge for East and Central Africa due to its infrastructural capacity.

However, we are yet to achieve the aspirations of the Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022 which was to build four regional cancer treatment centres in Kisii, Nakuru, Mombasa and Nyeri. Besides that, we only have 35 oncologists in both public and private hospitals.

As the country strives to achieve the tenets of Sustainable Development Goal 3, statistics show that 97 per cent of Kenyans who travel to seek medical treatment choose India primarily for cancer treatment.

In Kenya, cancer is the third leading cause of death after infectious and cardiovascular diseases, making up for more than 50 per cent of Kenyans seeking medical treatment abroad.

The International Agency for Research in Cancer GLOBOCAN report, 2018, estimated 47,887 new cancer cases annually with a mortality of 32,987, representing close to a 45 per cent increase in incidence. I am dwelling on this non-communicable disease because cancer has agonisingly impoverished many families and communities, defeating the purpose of the universal health coverage and health financing initiative launched in February 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a day before the 32nd Summit of African Union.

Currently, African countries spend $8 to $129 per capita on health compared to the high-income countries that spend above $4,000.

The fourth schedule of our constitution outlined the functions of the national and county governments to avoid creating a lacuna and conundrum. Health is one of the functions that was devolved.

Hence, it is the onus of the counties to work closely with the national government to fulfil this mandate so that Kenyans can reap its benefits. As a country, we need to ask ourselves hard questions about why India can do so well in medical tourism and yet we have the potential to do better than them.

How does India offer cheap modern quality care for specialised conditions? Methinks, as a country, if we politically set our priorities right, we can solidify our medical tourism clientele base and outshine India since their gross domestic growth is slightly similar to that of Kenya (less than two digits).

County and national governments can seamlessly collaborate with local and global doctors to manage patients under the new technology known as telemedicine, which involves using electronic communication and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit.

This technology can be remotely utilised for patient follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, specialist consultation and a plethora of other medical services via secure video and audio connections.

Health financing should give a wide berth to brick-and-mortar tenderpreneurship for now and focus on staff motivation, strengthening primary health care, minimising and criminalising inherent intentional bureaucracies, improving and equipping the existing facilities, increasing surge capacity, embracing advanced diagnostic technology, increasing access to essential commodities, bolstering ambulance services, fund research and above all, installation of stellar leadership to spearhead the agenda.

As the country recuperates from the enormous economic shocks created by the Covid-19 pandemic it is time, to not only keep the faith, but also to press the action button. Faith without action is delusional.

Mr Maragia is in the Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme. [email protected]

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