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State accelerates digital transformation of healthcare

 Community health promoters (CHPs) display their kits during a past event in Kisii County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

More than 100,000 community health promoters (CHPs) are bridging the gap in healthcare through digital transformation of the health system.

Armed with smartphones loaded with medical apps and communication tools, the CHPs are ensuring families in remote villages access healthcare.

For the last decade, the Ministry of Health in partnership with Living Goods International has been planning to institutionalise a unified digital platform encompassing all levels of care.

Now catalysed by a national push for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic, Kenya is embarking on a transformative journey to digitise its healthcare system.

"Community health promoters are the linchpin connecting our communities to formal health services," said Vihiga Governor Wilberforce Otichilo.

Dr Otichilo was speaking on behalf of the Council of Governors at the launch of a new Community Health Promoters Magazine in Nairobi.

"We are obliged to deliver a bottom-up approach like 'Afya Nyumbani' that recognizes communities' potential to drive positive health outcomes," he said.

The governor hailed the economic benefits of investing in the frontline workforce.

He cited studies showing a Sh9.4 return for every shilling invested.

Data shows that CHPs have visited 2.69 million households, registered 4.4 million individuals, and referred 137,000 diabetes and hypertension cases for facility-based care.

“Achieving good health results, particularly against threats like Covid-19, requires developing sustainable strategies and sustaining commitment to public health priorities,” said the governor.

Investments in community health have contributed to remarkable national gains highlighted in the latest Demographic and Health Survey - nine out of ten births are now attended by skilled personnel, up from 66 per cent in 2014.

Under-five years mortality dropped to 41 per 1,000 live births from 52, while infant mortality fell to 32 per 1,000 from 39.

However, counties still face hurdles including tight budgets, health worker strikes, medical supply shortages and delayed national digitisation rollouts.

"It's terrible in flood-prone areas - our colleagues struggle to reach impacted communities, and even their digital tools are affected by the devastation," said Caroline Atieno, a CHP from Kisumu. 

The vital role of community health workers is underscored by Kenya's acute shortage of physicians at just one per 5,000 people.

Fewer than 62 per cent of births occur in facilities, and 52 out of 1,000 children die before age five – grim statistics highlighting the urgent need to expand essential services through community outreach. 

Digital tools have streamlined promoters' workloads, replacing cumbersome paper registers with apps for household mapping, health education, supply tracking and following up on maternal and child clients. 

Counties have pledged continued investments across preventive, curative and rehabilitative care, with Governor Otichilo saying: "To achieve UHC, we must strengthen community health through sustainable financing, skilled workers, improved services, medical products and robust data systems."

Bolstering these efforts is Living Goods CEO Chuck Slaughter who fully supports President William Ruto's vision of having a community health promoter in every community nationwide.

"Living Goods has been a champion of community health for over 20 years," he said, citing studies demonstrating community health workers can reduce child mortality by over 30 per cent in a cost-effective manner when properly trained, equipped and compensated. 

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