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Four UHC bills to be signed into law as government warns those opposed to it

 President William Ruto with Busia Governor Paul Otwoma and Health CS Susan Nakhumicha at Busia Referral Hospital when the president toured the facility on August 26, 2023. Ruto was accompanied by Cabinet Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

President William Ruto is set to sign the proposed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) bills into law on Thursday.

The bills will accelerate the implementation of UHC, set to be launched on Friday during the celebration of Mashujaa Day in Kericho.

Health CS Susan Nakhumicha disclosed on Tuesday that Parliament has finalised the four Bills, namely the Primary Health Care Bill, Facility Improvement Financing Bill, Digital Health Bill and the Social Health Insurance Bill.

“We have finalised the UHC bills that have been in Parliament, and the president will assent on, or by Thursday,” said the Health CS.

The CS said once Kenya has a digital healthcare law, the country will have real-time data for decision-making, among other benefits.

“It is an ambitious target to have a digital superhighway, but with my team, we are going to achieve it,” said the CS.

Speaking during the ongoing UHC conference in Kericho, the CS added, “I will never be happier when we have a system that integrates and protects patients' data,” she said.

The CS appealed to stakeholders to support the system (the law) so that it can work for Kenyans.

“We want a patient’s data to remain in the hospital, and the reason we want one identification number,” added Ms Nakhumicha during the conference.

On his part, the PS Medical Services Harry Kimtai said once the digital health bill is enacted, it will enable the Ministry of Health to integrate all healthcare services, which will pave the way for a standardised service delivery system across the country.

“Once we have this law in place, it is going to automatically initiate change management where any worker who opposes will run into problems with the government,” said Kimtai.

The PS added that the law opens up opportunities for collaboration.

The proposed Primary Health Care Bill will provide a framework for the effective delivery and management of primary healthcare services using Primary Healthcare Networks (PCNs) and Community Health Units while delineating the roles of all stakeholders in the provision of primary healthcare services across the Republic of Kenya.

The Bill also seeks to entrench the role of the Community Health Promoters in the provision of community-based Primary Healthcare Services.

Further, the Facility Improvement Financing Bill will provide for an efficient, secure and accountable mechanism for the collection, retention and management of revenue derived from health services. In contrast, the Digital Health Bill will develop, operationalise and maintain the Comprehensive Integrated Management Information System to manage the core digital systems and the infrastructure required for its seamless health information exchange.

The digitalisation of the healthcare system in Kenya has dominated the Pre-Mashujaa conference held in preparation for the official launch of the UHC.

Health experts and stakeholders have asked the government to set up a strong health networking system in the country to keep and disseminate health data.

The Ministry of Information CS Eliud Owalo said the Kenya Kwanza Government dialogue on digital health is crucial in conversations of revamping UHC to ensure patients across the country access.

In the 21st Century, the CS interplay between healthcare and digital technology is becoming increasingly important.

“The world is moving away from legacy platforms and methods of doing things and embracing ultra-modern digital platforms and methods,” said Owalo.

He added, “The goals that we seek to achieve remain the same, but newer, faster, more efficient methods are necessary. That is where digital technology comes in”.

Owalo added that President Ruto’s Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA) has identified healthcare as one of the five critical pillars to be embraced for accelerated national development.

According to the CS, the Government has also recognised the role of digital technology as a facilitator of its entire development agenda.

“Accordingly, we in the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Digital Economy are in a very vital place in the effort towards realising the Kenya Kwanza universal healthcare agenda that is the focus of this conference. We are a vital delivery agent, providing the digital economy that must drive digital healthcare,” added Owalo.

Currently, the Ministry of Information is rolling out 100,000 kilometres of Fiber Backbone Infrastructure, targeting health facilities, schools, and the Judiciary, among other public institutions.

Further, the government intends to provide 1,450 village digital hubs geared towards spurring e-commerce, the creative industry and the digital economy.

University of Nairobi Computer Science Professor Waiganjo Wagacha said Kenya has so many gaps in human resources for health, which needs to be addressed by having more of them with adequate skills to use the new tools.

“There is a need to review the medical curriculum to be in line with the new realities to leverage the benefits that will come with the new tools,” said Prof Wagacha.

Prof Wagacha added that it is a new dawn for the Kenyans in the lowest pyramid to have custody of their patient records.

Also present was Prof Olive Mugenda, board chairperson of the Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral and Research Hospital, and other health stakeholders who supported the proposed laws to boost healthcare for all Kenyans.

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