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Uhuru upbeat on UHC rollout, says it will lead to key healthcare gains

President Uhuru Kenyatta with, (from far left) Mombasa County Governor Hassan Joho, Mvita MP Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and Jomvu MP Badi Twalib during the opening of the Regional Cancer Treatment Centre at Coast General Hospital in Mombasa County on Tuesday, February 8, 2022. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta is optimistic that the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) will revolutionise healthcare if successfully implemented. 

The President Kenyatta said sickness had forced families without health insurance to sell property to settle medical bills, but that will be a thing of the past under UHC. 

The programme, he said, will also see a drastic reduction in the number of those travelling abroad for treatment or surgeries.

Uhuru, while launching UHC at the Port Reitz Hospital in Changamwe in Mombasa on Monday said “nobody knows when to get sick” but with UHC “every Kenyans should visit hospital without stress.”   

He added: “A family cannot fight sickness if there is sickness…sickness may end up having people sell their utensils and bed. To avoid such, let us register with NHIF so that we can use the money to invest in other development projects.”

President Kenyatta said through the Managed Equipment Services (MES), Kenyans can receive quality treatment.

For cancer patients, he said  “there is no reason for struggling, even traveling to India. You can be treated here. Open-heart surgery is also done at our local hospitals by our doctors.”  

But implementation of UHC and its success will depend on among others, funding and reforms in agencies like the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa). Kemsa board is yet to initiate recruitment of a substantive CEO. The agency has been dogged by graft allegations. Operations of the agency were put in limbo after employees were sent to work from home five months ago.

Kemsa has had three CEOs in quick succession: Edward Njoroge was appointed in August last year, following the suspension of Dr Johana Manjari, a former health executive in Nakuru County. Dr Manjari joined Kemsa as the CEO on July 1, 2018, but was later suspended, and the board disbanded following the Sh7.8 billion Covid-19 procurement scandal. Njoroge has since been replaced by Peter Kabuchi, who is the Acting CEO. The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) is the financier of UHC under the newly signed NHIF Amendment Bill 2022 and President Kenyatta ordered that “the reforms at Kemsa and NHIF must be concluded for Kenyans to benefit from all these efforts.”

Kemsa supplies drugs and other medical supplies to the 47 counties where quality healthcare and service delivery in public health facilities will be key to the success of UHC, which Kenyans are expected to pay for through remitting fees to NHIF.

“If I go to the hospital, I get health providers, be given drugs and receive service on time, then, I will naturally support UHC and remit NHIF,” said economist XN Iraki of the University of Nairobi. Prof Iraki called for the equipping of dispensaries, health centres, sub county and referral hospitals across the country as part of giving value for money. 

Kenya’s top 10 leading causes of death include HIV, perinatal conditions, lower respiratory infections, TB, diarrhea, malaria, cerebrovascular disease, ischemic heart disease, traffic accidents and violence. Communicable and non-communicable diseases have also been on the rise.

President Kenya also singled out dispensaries and health centres as fundamental pillars in the implementation of UHC whose “guarantor is a robust primary healthcare system.”   

UHC is one pillar of the government’s Big Four Agenda that seek to eradicate poverty of dignity in search of quality and accessible health care. Among envisaged reforms at NHIF is standardizing of the cost of medical bill across all hospitals, with private facilities also being urged to cut their costs by this June. County governments who are in charge of health, under devolution, will also give facilities autonomy to reinvest funds in hospitals and to curb cases of fraud, biometric registration of UHC will be interlinked with Huduma database.

Implementation of UHC began in 2013 with the launch of Lind Mama, a programme that annually benefits about one million mothers. Under Linda Mama, hospitals deliveries increased, with C-Section procedures rising from 9.5 per cent in 2016 to 14.9 per cent in 2019, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2015/16.

One year piloting of UHC was done in the counties of Isiolo, Nyeri, Machakos and Kisumu from 2019 and counties are expected to put in place communication programmes to sensitize people on the NHIF reforms.