Sunday, April 7, 2013

An open letter to the incoming president

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 07 April 2013
Dear Sir,
I must apologise for being so forward as to imagine that in your busy schedule you will find time to read this piece. I can only hope that you will come across it either in this newspaper or on the various social media platforms you actively use.
First, congratulations on your hard-won victory in the just-concluded presidential contest.
The queues of political parties’ leaders itching to sign post-election deals with you confirms the superiority of your campaign infrastructure, and justifies the optimism with which you and your team view the future of this country.
As you prepare for your inauguration, I would like to bring a couple of things to your attention. Please keep in mind that your predecessor will be remembered for all time as the president who introduced free primary education, as well as subsidised secondary education and expanded university education. In short, President Kibaki will be remembered as the “Education President”.
Sir, this is your moment to begin the journey towards your future designation as Kenya’s “Health President”.
First, I would challenge you to keep your promise of spending at least 15 per cent of the budget on health. There is no shortage of needs in this field, and I can assure you that the plans for this expenditure are gathering dust on shelves at the ministry of Health headquarters.
Useful suggestion
The latest report in this regard, the Musyimi Taskforce report, was handed to ministry officials over a year ago. It makes useful suggestions on where immediate and medium-term investments in health ought to be made in order to begin improving the health of our people.
The report discusses challenges in the sector, including deficiencies in infrastructure, human resources, supplies and indeed ideas. The biggest problem, though, has been under-financing despite government commitment to spend 15 per cent of its budget on health.
It then provides solutions, pinpointing areas where increased investment is necessary, and even providing numbers that are needed to fill in the gaps.
The second area that may interest you, Mr President, is that of mental health. Even as we lament the lack of investment in health, within the health sector, mental health suffers the tag of the ignored child in the family. Within health expenditure, less than one per cent is spent on mental health. The problem here is that expenditure on mental health is completely out of tune with the magnitude of the problem.
A quick scan of any daily newspaper will reveal the extent of the problem. Daily, people are committing suicide for a variety of reasons while others are committing homicides for the most outlandish of reasons. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some of our leaders are making very important decisions that affect the entire country while suffering from untreated mental illnesses.
The truth of the matter is that a significant proportion of our population suffers from mental illness. Due to under-investment in this area, all other sectors of our economy and daily lives are affected adversely. Mr President, this is your opportunity to begin building a legacy as the president who revolutionised mental health services and subsequently led Kenya on a path of unparalleled growth.
Faithful citizen.
Dr 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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