Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Health care must become interest of every Kenyan

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 07 October 2012

If there is anything events in the health sector in the recent past have demonstrated, the most startling is that health is very far from most of our leaders’ list of priorities. Despite a doctors’ strike continuing for over three weeks, Kenya’s leading political contenders continued with their lives as if nothing was amiss. A few, of course, made token statements about supporting health and health workers, but it is clear to any observer that none of the candidates has a comprehensive campaign strategy on health.

In other countries, health is a make-or-break issue during any campaign. In the United States, for instance, there are major differences between the two presidential candidates on how to handle health care, and many consider these differences to be so fundamental as to influence their voting choices. In Kenya, obviously no one gives too much thought to this issue.

The tragedy is that the public health sector, broken as it is, is the main provider for a majority of citizens. Over 80 per cent of voters visit public health facilities when they fall ill. Almost all our politicians fall outside this group, and are able to afford care in expensive private facilities. It is thus clear that a chasm exists between the experiences of the leaders and the led, and the possibility of this chasm being bridged is remote.

As someone pointed out to me recently, a developed country is one in which, by choice, everyone uses public social services, including health services. 

Cherished property 

In Kenya, people sell their cherished property in order to afford care in private hospitals. The private health sector is thus the greatest beneficiary of the rot in the public health sector. Indeed, it has been observed that private health providers wrote to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) prevailing upon it not to increase the pay of public health workers by a big margin since this would have an impact on their profitability.

One hopes that reason will prevail in the SRC, and that their recommendations will go a long way in making public health care services more attractive than private ones.

The time has come for our presidential aspirants and their political parties to have clear proposals on the improvement of our health sector. Kenyans must start demanding substance from their favourite leaders, instead of fawning all over them on account of their ethnic background. In any case, your tribesmate will not save your life at a time of need if he cannot guarantee a hospital with adequate equipment and staffing in your vicinity.

We need to hear political party positions on the formation of a Health Service Commission to manage human resources for health in this country. We need to know where they stand on the implementation of the Abuja Declaration that called for spending 15 per cent of the budget on health. We need to be told how they intend to improve health infrastructure from the community level all the way to the national level.

Indeed, we need to know who they intend to nominate as their Health Cabinet and Principal secretaries, so that we can scrutinise their integrity and abilities, and make our voting decisions accordingly. Health care must be everyone’s priority, not just for health workers.

This is the thrust of the “Peremende Movement” that exploded out of social media this week. 

Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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