Why we must urgently revamp our health system

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BY MACHEL WAIKENDA

The events of the last one week have yet again exposed another wanting situation that Kenya needs to deal with urgently. Other than compounding the need to address the insecurity that continues to face the country, the attack in Mombasa brought out another issue that needs to be addressed.

In the wake of the suspected terror attack at a church in Likoni, our medical system was thoroughly exposed as one that cannot handle emergencies effectively. The situation paints a bad image of our health system as a country and points to an urgent need for health reforms.

It was sad to see a one and a half year old toddler suffer with a bullet lodged inside his head because he could not be attended to immediately. Only the young boy can narrate how he felt with the object inside his head for days.

This situation showed us the country lacks proper medical facilities and specialists to deal with such occurrences. And a sad reality if there were multiple individuals who needed the kind of treatment this young child needed and had to be airlifted to Nairobi.

To start with Mombasa is the country’s second largest city and should have the facilities to handle this kind of situations. Unfortunately, there seems to be a kind of negligence on the authorities to ensure that it is the kind of city it is supposed to be.

This should therefore be a wakeup call for both the national and Mombasa Governments to ensure that medical facilities in the County are upgraded. The two governments must also ensure that we have a good number of health specialists in the Coastal town.

It is also unfortunate that there was no specialist to attend to baby Osinya all the time that he was in Mombasa – one had to fly down to Mombasa from Nairobi. This is the sad situation across the country that must be addressed immediately to avert deaths that can be avoided.

With this current situation, we have sadly learnt that there are only 16 registered neurosurgeons in Kenya – 13 of them based in Kenya. This is a disturbing reality for a country with up to 40 million people most of them living in poverty.

The cost of the surgeries which is above Sh300,000 in public hospitals is also too high and beyond the reach of many Kenyans. It is also disturbing that some patients have to wait for up to six months to get operated in a country seeking to reach middle-income status in 15 years.

This situation calls on the government to come up with strategies that will increase the number of medical specialists in the country. These strategies should also include how to equip our hospitals better to avoid a situation where people have to be airlifted from one part of the country to Nairobi.

Counties must also ensure that they play their part in improving the health system in the country by contributing to the national health policy. We have seen many counties invest in ambulances but these vehicles will remain irrelevant if health facilities are not properly equipped with necessary equipment, drugs and staff.

Last year, it was unfortunate to seen up to 30 counties that slash their budgets by more than half, compared to what the Ministry of Health previously spent in each of the areas before the advent of devolution.

Some counties were reported to have invested as little as Sh24 per person in developing health, while the best spenders were counting on donors to honor their promises to supplement funds. This is a situation that should and must be reversed and if necessary force the county governments to dedicate a certain percentage of their budgets to health.

Our hospital services must be improved, with better pay and conditions for healthcare professionals and a higher standard of care and treatment for patients. Every Kenyan should have access to high quality healthcare as guaranteed in the bill of rights.

The Jubilee government must therefore dedicate more funds to health care and ensure that we stock health centres with drugs and equipment necessary to treat all Kenyans. The government must also ensure that it addresses the urgent and immediate need for more public health officers.

The way we have handled emergencies in the country including the Likoni attack calls for the urgent need for the upgrade and equipping of all major hospitals to referral hospitals. This should be supported by a network of County referral facilities and community level public health centres.

The government must also establish fully-fledged low-cost diagnostic centres and provide adequate screening and treatment facilities for persons with chronic or terminal conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and kidney failure, in every county.

Kenya can also not afford to waste huge investments in the training of health practitioners, especially, doctors who later leave the country and work abroad. Strategies must be developed to stem the brain drain to ensure the maximum possible utilisation of the skills of Kenyan-trained doctors for the benefit of the country.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

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