For UHC to work, improve quality in public hospitals

Isiolo Governor Dr Mohamed Kuti observes a patient undergoing a c-scan at Isiolo Referral Hospital. The facility has had improved infrastructure development under UHC. [Ali Abdi, Standard]

The launch of the Universal Health Coverage programme by President Uhuru Kenyatta coincided with the sad story of a doctor whose body is detained over an accumulated bill.

At 22 million, it probably is one of the highest bill in recent times that has to be paid for the release of a body. However, it is just one of the many such sad cases. Coincidentally, most of the cases involve private medical facilities. In one case, a lady who eventually died had accumulated a bill of nearly Sh7m over a period of just two months.

Even after struggling and managing to pay a bigger portion of the bill, the hospital was still adamant. It would only release the body after the full amount had been paid. The family had to go to court.

One of the questions that arises is what exactly would contribute to a person accumulating a bill of Sh7m in two months? The figure translates to over Sh100,000 a day. If one was to stay in a good hotel paying up to Sh20,000 per night, he would only be required to pay roughly Sh1.2m. However, the more critical question is what makes people prefer private facilities over public ones.

One major reason has to be efficiency. Many lives have been lost in public facilities for slow response during emergency. Lack of critical equipment and medicine has also been mentioned several times. The number of times public health workers have had to go to the street for their welfare also signifies another problem; delayed salaries, unimplemented CBAs, lack of equipment to lack of promotions among others.

Universal Health Coverage is a welcome relief. Through the National Health Insurance Scheme, it accords every Kenyan an opportunity to seek treatment at affordable cost. However, the real effort should now focus on making sure, the services are as competitive as any other facility. 

The Government should work towards building confidence that public medical facilities can provide similar or even better services. Some two or three weeks ago, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana walked into Makueni Referral Hospital for a medical procedure which was successfully done.

Yet, what would otherwise have been a normal activity became a big story. Why? Leaders rarely use public facilities. 

We look forward to seeing President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Cabinet and their families walking into Mbagathi Hospital or Mama Lucy. The CAS for Health Dr Mercy Mwangangi promised to give birth at Pumwani Maternity Hospital.

We are waiting.

The writer is an anchor at Radio Maisha