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.
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.
someone pointed out to me recently, a developed country is one in which,
by choice, everyone uses public social services, including health
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
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
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.
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
Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric
Association, and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of
medicine firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli