“Our hospitals are fully stocked. We are fully staffed and have competent individuals to serve patients in our country” quipped a Mauritian government official in a recent investment conference.
The response was directed to a question on medical cover schemes and how sufficient they are especially for retirees. This caught the attention of many Kenyans in the room, wondering what exactly the Kenyan Health CS, Ms. Cecily Kariuki would have said.
Across the world, there are three elements that have made health care systems work. The mix of the right equipment empowered health care professionals and stocking of hospital facilities with appropriate drugs must intertwine in a productive manner.
Kenya has a huge disparity in terms of the patient to doctor ratio. According to the World Health Organization, Cuba has the best ratio of 155:1. In Kenya, it’s one doctor for every 16,000 against the recommended ratio of one to 300 patients. However, Kenya still leads the pack across our neighboring countries with Tanzanian ratio standing at one doctor for every 20,000 patients.
Kenyan health care professionals are well trained and among the most sought in other African countries especially in southern Africa. This has been supplemented by training and exchange program between Cuba and Kenya. The issue of inequality becomes the only impediment towards better health care for the common mwananchi.
Access to modern equipment for proper diagnostics and eventual treatment is key to service delivery in the healthcare sector. We have experienced mixed reactions to the government’s program initiated in the early stages of Uhuru regime of equipping key public hospitals through a health equipment scheme.
In April this year, county chiefs requested the Senate to establish a select committee to investigate the viability of the Sh63 billion scheme, some arguing that it was a rip-off. Yet in some counties, this program has been lauded as one of the significant steps the national government has taken towards universal health coverage. Kisii County has associated the improved quality of healthcare and progress in delivering the health function promises to this government program.
The other thorny issue is the stocking of drugs in government health care facilities. Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA), the agency mandated to manage drug supplies, has blocked some counties from receiving drugs due to huge debts. Nairobi County has unpaid bills to the tune of Kshs 284 million, while other counties like Narok, Murang’a, Kericho, Makueni, Kilifi and Kwale have massive unpaid bills prompting KEMSA to block any further drug supplies to these entities. This has fuelled the perception that doctors and clinicians run pharmacies across the streets and towns near the government facilities to benefit from this inadequacy.
Of course, the most vulnerable population in this scenario is the old age group without income streams, children in rural areas and smallholder producers without formal employment. The reason why Norway, the US, and Switzerland are favorite places to grow old is that they are better equipped to handle the social, economic, and medical needs of their growing elderly populations. The presence of doctor-patient inequalities, lack of drugs in the healthcare facilities and ill-equipped hospitals diminish the chances for us to confidently say that our health care systems respond to the needs of our citizen.