Most of us seek care when we are acutely ill or injured. Most healthcare providers are able to handle these emergencies. Well-organised emergency care is recognised as among the most cost-effective public health interventions.
Recognising the importance to strong health systems, the WHO in its 2007 World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolution 60.22, 'Health Systems: Emergency Care Systems' called for all countries to develop effective emergency care systems. More recently in 2019, WHA 72.16 'Emergency care systems for universal health coverage: Ensuring timely care for the acutely ill and injured' placed Emergency Medicine as a core specialty within any healthcare system.
There has been uproar on social media over the delay in the care of a baby received at KNH with a fork lodged in his head. The questions we should be asking are; why was the baby transferred all the way from Thika level 5 Hospital to KNH? How many facilities, public and private, were on the way? We can speculate that these facilities did not have the requisite personnel or equipment to handle this emergency; we can also speculate that the deposits or fees required were out of the reach of the parents. How many more such cases happen where the golden hour is lost? The golden hour is the first hour after a traumatic injury, when emergency treatment is most likely to be successful.
What do our laws say about emergency healthcare and health in general? The right to health is a fundamental human right guaranteed in the Constitution. Article 43 (1) (a) of the Constitution provides that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health. The Health Act (2017) clearly spells out what should be done in emergency situations and how those situations can be funded in the event the patient is unable to pay. The Health Act defines a medical emergency as an acute situation of injury or illness that poses immediate risk to life or health of a person.
To cater for situations where the patient is unable to pay for their emergency medical treatment, the Health Act, under Section 15(1)(x) tasks the national government with the establishment of an emergency medical treatment fund.
Therefore, one can surmise that on financing of emergency medical treatment, the law has provided avenues for dealing with the same. All that needs to be done is implementation of the provisions.
The current Parliament and the new CSs for Health and Finance have an opportunity to implement the Constitution as pertains emergencies.
The implementation of the above provisions and setting up of the relevant policy, including the Emergency Treatment Fund, should be the first priority of the new administration. It will bring to life one of the fundamental rights in the Constitution, which is to receive the highest attainable standard of care. On the other hand, public and private health facilities will be able to invest and provide those services without having to worry about who will settle the bill.
Dr Abdi is the chairman of the Kenya Association of Private Hospitals