Game of Numbers: Kenya’s Ailing Health Sector Compared to Other Countries

By Vera Shawiza / June 12, 2018



Health Sector

Universal healthcare focuses on access to quality services for citizens of all social classes. This requires bold discussions around the key pillars of an effective health system as defined by World Health Organization.

The fact that Africa has fewer doctors than the rest of the world has frequently been identified as one of the root causes of the continent’s health challenges.

In Kenya, for instance, the doctor to patient ratio is 1 to 17,000 against the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of 1 to 1,000. With the total population in Kenya currently standing at almost 50 million people, this is proof that the country needs to put more effort on the number of doctors for a steady healthcare system in Kenya.

As of 2017, Kenya had only 2,089 specialist doctors, according to a national survey of the country’s hospital staff has revealed. In 2015, there were 5,660 medical doctors, with 387 of them specializing in gynecology. Experts in general surgery stood at 338 while internal medicine experts were 296.

According to the 2015 Kenya Health Workforce Report: The Status of Health Care Professionals in Kenya, Kenya was at a distant 13.8 per 10,000. The report calculated that the total population was 47,681,799 people in January 2016 and that on a given day there are 4,373 live births and 1,164 deaths.

Therefore, Kenya’s population grows by more than 3,200 every day but that does not match the rate at which new doctors are added to the market annually.

When the specialist and general practitioner doctors are combined, the national ratio for doctors is 1.5 medics per 10,000 people while that of dentists is 0.2 dentists per 10,000.

In health financing, Kenya ranks position 140 out of 190 in the WHO Ranking of the World’s Health Systems. The difference between us and leading countries is health financing. This has greatly affected other components such as human resources, essential medical products and technologies and, ultimately, service delivery.

The WHO provides for minimum staffing norms, which were customized in the August 2014 Human Resources for Health Staffing Norms and Standards by the Ministry of Health.

This was to be achieved by employment of 12,000 health workers per year for four years, but the government has since employed only 15,000 in four years.

According to the guidelines, we were supposed to have 16,278 clinical officers, 13,141 doctors and 38,315 nurses in public health sector employment against the current 6,000 clinical officers, 5000 doctors, and 25,000 nurses.

The ideal minimum health worker to population ratio should be 23 health workers to 10,000 Kenyans or 40 clinical officers per 100,000 Kenyans, 32 doctors per 100,000 Kenyans or 95 nurses per 100,000 Kenyans.

Currently, Kenya has 2,204 active medical specialists of the 2,711 that are registered by the doctors’ board and in view of the World Health Organization’s recommendation of one doctor per 1,000 populations, Kenya has an absolute deficit of 40,332 doctors.

Here is a list of the ration of practicing Doctors per 1000 patients as of 2017, in some counties across the world according to the Spectator Index,  

Austria: 5.1                     Netherlands: 3.4 Israel: 3.4

France: 3.1                       Ireland: 2.9

Norway: 4.4                      UK: 2.8

Canada: 2.5                      Switzerland: 4.2

US: 2.5                               South Korea: 2.3

India: 0.7                           Germany: 4.1

Russia: 3.9                         Italy: 3.9

Spain: 3.8                           Australia: 3.5

The 2017 Economic Survey shows Kenya had only 172,706 registered health professionals for the 48 million population in 2016, an improvement from 153,802 the previous year.

The distribution was 382 health professionals per 100,000 people in 2016, compared to 346 a year earlier.

For instance, there were just 23 medical officers, three dentists and seven pharmacists per 100,000 people, compared with 126 registered nurses, 95 enrolled nurses and 38 clinical officers.

Radical reforms are needed to fix these problems and position the healthcare system to contribute to improving the people’s livelihoods.

A memorandum signed between Kenya and Cuba saw by the Star shows that the specialists will arrive on May 28 and proceed to the counties, with each county getting at least two.

They will work hand-in-hand with their Kenyan counterparts to roll out a range of medical services that are expected to radically change how a large number of life-threatening diseases are managed.

The government reached out to seek help from the government of Cuba, and just recently, a total of 110 Cuban doctors landed in Kenya for the purposes of ‘helping boost health sector in Kenya’.



About Vera Shawiza

Vera Shawiza is Soko Directory’s in-house journalist. Her zealous nature ensures that sufficient and relevant content is generated for the Soko Directory website and sourcing information from clients is easy as smooth sailing. Vera can be reached at: (020) 528 0222 or Email: [email protected]

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