Let's fix our ailing healthcare once and for all at the ballot

A nurse was captured cleaning a floor of a hospital. [Getty Images]

Last Sunday, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaican female sprinter made history when she won a record fifth 100m world title. Upon winning, she uttered words that should jolt Kenya’s health sector into action, “I can’t even imagine the amount of times I’ve had setbacks and I’ve bounced back and I’m here again.”

Kenya’s health sector should emulate the Jamaican sprint queen’s resilience and embark on an unstoppable health excellence journey.

We are at a major renewal phase. The looming elections will usher in new leadership that can and must take Kenya’s healthcare to the next level. In addition, we are approaching our tenth-year anniversary of devolved government. Health is the Constitution’s largest devolved function.

Unfortunately, health delivery in the counties has been so dysfunctional that many have questioned the wisdom of devolving it in the first place.

Of course, much more funds must equally be devolved to follow such humongous functions. However, the problem may be with the county office holders and not just the devolution of the function or requisite funds.

Since the 2013 advent of devolved government, health workers from different counties have gone on strike each year due to salary issues. As such, finances are the crux of these problems.

In January 2021, Wycliffe Oparanya, the then Council of Governors chairman, said that counties did not have financial muscle to pay health workers more money.

However, ten years is too long a time to keep having a standoff between the two levels of government especially when some governors stand accused of mismanaging health funds.

Last year, the Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu revealed that most county governments had mismanaged Covid-19 funds amid the devastating crisis.

There have also been cases of delayed county government payments to the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa).

In the case of Marsabit County, these delays totaled Sh73 million and resulted in Kemsa suspending disbursement of drugs and other medical supplies to the county’s 118 public health facilities.

While Kemsa has had its fair of allegations, let the truth be told that delay in placing drug orders by county governments is also a big issue that is costing lives.

Innocent Kenyans are silently suffering as a result of blame games and form of inefficiencies involving healthcare issues that must be spotlighted and punished decisively.

More concretely it’s time for us to accelerate local manufacture of drugs so that we can drastically enhance their availability and affordability.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK) recently called on the government to promote local production of active ingredients that can be used to manufacture drugs in the country.

PSK revealed that 90 per cent of Kenya’s prescriptions can be filled by locally produced drugs. I challenge the next administration to prioritise this local production of drugs. That would constitute a massive leap forward in our journey towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Last year in September, I wrote an open letter to the Minister for Health (a must read) and proposed several pathways towards world-class healthcare in Kenya. 

Today, a resounding message goes out to Kenyans that ultimately, we must use our vote to fix healthcare once and for all. Time is up for shenanigans. There should be zero tolerance for blame games and finger pointing.

In the year 2000, Kenya’s life expectancy stood at 51 years. Today, it is 66 years. Although this is an improvement and based on various factors, USA’s life expectancy is 78 while Mauritius’s is 74. Evidently, Kenyans are dying earlier. A time has come for us to bounce back and so that Kenyans can live longer, healthier lives. Think green and act green!