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Thorny path to UHC: Kenya's struggle with inclusion and promise of digital accessibility

 Health CS Susan Nakhumicha. [File, Standard]

Despite the government’s avowed commitment to the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) policy of 2020, the path toward inclusivity and accessibility in healthcare remains fraught with formidable obstacles. The stark reality of exclusion and neglect in addressing the healthcare needs of persons with disabilities lays bare a systemic deficiency that beckons urgent attention and innovative remedies.

Central to the failure in achieving UHC for Persons with Disabilities is the enduring dearth of accessible health information and services. Vital medical knowledge often remains beyond reach, failing to be disseminated in Kenyan sign language or braille formats, thereby alienating Deaf persons and persons with visual disability. Moreover, healthcare facilities stand guilty of inadequacy, lacking fundamental accessibility features such as ramps, handrails, or beds suited for varying needs.

A poignant illustration of this stark inaccessibility unfolds within the labour rooms of hospitals, where beds loom too high for individuals with disabilities. This distressing reality compels some pregnant women with disabilities to endure childbirth on the floor, stripped of dignity and exposed to unnecessary risks due to the absence of appropriate facilities.

Nevertheless, amid this labyrinth of challenges, glimmers of hope arise from the realm of digital accessibility. Initiatives like video calls, screen readers and Google’s Live Transcribe offer promising avenues to bridge the chasm in healthcare access for persons with disabilities. Through real-time transcription of spoken language into text, Live Transcribe empowers Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons to engage more meaningfully with healthcare providers, ensuring vital information about their health and treatment options reaches them.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Health must prioritise the establishment and implementation of digital accessibility standards, such as Kenya Standard KS 2952-1-2:2022, to guide healthcare facilities in fashioning inclusive environments for persons with disabilities. These standards delineate requisite accessibility measures in the built environment, including healthcare facilities, guaranteeing they are fashioned and furnished to accommodate the diverse needs of all individuals, irrespective of disability.

Close collaboration between the Ministry of Health and disability organisations is imperative to conduct comprehensive evaluations of existing healthcare services and facilities. By directly engaging with stakeholders from the disability community, the ministry can glean invaluable insights into the specific challenges confronting persons with disabilities and tailor policies and interventions accordingly.

The attainment of Universal Health Coverage for persons with disabilities in Kenya necessitates a concerted endeavour to dismantle the systemic barriers perpetuating exclusion and inequality in healthcare access. Embracing digital accessibility solutions and embracing comprehensive standards, the Ministry of Health can chart significant strides toward fulfilling the promise of UHC for all Kenyans.

- The author is a public policy and social justice advocate

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