Monday, August 30, 2010

Case for a health professionals council

Sunday Nation 29 August 2010

Now that the new Constitution is well on its way to full implementation, Kenyans must remain vigilant to ensure that they are not short-changed in this process.

It is time the church and others opposed to certain provisions in the Constitution accepted the will of the majority and suggested ways of implementing the document to the satisfaction of all Kenyans.

To this end, it may be necessary to find creative ways of dealing with some of the more emotive issues raised by the church and others in the ‘No’ camp during the campaigns.

One such issue concerned the provisions allowing health professionals to terminate a pregnancy if the mother’s life or health is in danger or she is in need of emergency treatment.

During the process of writing this constitution, health workers were very vocal in demanding a Health Services Commission entrenched in the constitution to regulate the health sector and ensure that providers are properly qualified and offer high quality services.

One of the functions of the proposed Commission would have been to license health professionals and provide for the sort of educational and other qualifications they needed to practise.

In my opinion, this would have been the body to determine who a health professional is in the context of the abortion clause, removing any ambiguity and laying the clergymen’s fears to rest.

Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected at some point in the process despite there being no obvious objections from all those involved. However, even in the absence of this Commission, all is not lost.

Although most health workers do not think the abortion clause allows for “abortion on demand” as articulated by the clergy, it is necessary to address their fears in the spirit of reconciliation and in order to bring everyone on board the implementation train.

Parliament should move with speed to set up a Health Professionals’ Council that will, among other things, determine who health professionals are and what sort of training they require to offer health services.

This would include making a determination as to who is allowed to make a decision that the life or health of a mother is in danger and the pregnancy needs to be terminated.

The same Council would license health professionals and outline what level of service delivery they should be involved in, and would bring together all the regulatory bodies in the health sector.

Apart from dealing with the abortion issue, this council would act to safeguard the health rights of the citizens, by giving meaning to such terms as “emergency treatment”, “the right to health” and other health related issues in the constitution.

The upshot of this is that in coming up with the Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution, Parliament must look beyond the traditional areas of expertise.

It has been customary for such commissions to be crammed with lawyers and very few other experts, if any, even though it is agreed that the constitution covers a wider range of issues than lawyers alone can handle.

The Commission should be broad-based and should include social scientists, health professionals and educators among others. This is the only way to ensure that the document is implemented practically and holistically, safeguarding the interests of all Kenyans.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

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