Sunday, April 21, 2013

Medics must be more proactive in the counties

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 21 April 2013

On Thursday, members of the Kenya Medical Association will congregate at Maanzoni Lodge in Machakos County for the 41st annual scientific conference and Annual General Meeting.
Doctors from all over the country will be deliberating on healthcare delivery in the devolved government, and it is hoped that at the end of the meeting a communiqué shall be issued providing professional guidance on the direction devolution of health care should take.
For a long time, governments have paid lip service to the importance of a healthy population in meeting development goals. Indeed, our government signed up to the Abuja declaration, committing itself to spending over 15 per cent of the budget on health.
Subsequently, we embraced the millennium development goals, whose underlying thrust is an improvement in health indicators in order to reduce poverty and suffering in the world.
Unfortunately, we have barely made a dent on the health problems that afflict us, and only recently are we awakening to the burden of new and emerging diseases.
Chronic diseases such as mental disorders, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and diabetes mellitus are becoming the new scourge for our generation. Despite being styled the diseases of wealthy countries, these illnesses today afflict all echelons of our largely poor society, and are becoming the greatest causes of illness and death among our people.
It is becoming clearer with each passing day that we cannot solve modern problems with the archaic approaches we have been using since independence.
Refreshingly, the new Constitution lays emphasis on devolved government, and a huge chunk of health care delivery has been devolved to the counties. This may just be the solution that is required to begin making a difference in the health of our people.
It is encouraging that all our governments, both national and county, are enthusiastically making plans for revamping the health sector to ensure that our people are able to march into the future without worrying that the next sick person in the family will leave them wallowing in penury.
This is an opportunity that cannot be allowed to go to waste. The national and county governments must somehow be compelled to budget 15 per cent of their available resources on health at their respective levels.
The national government’s pledge to deliver maternity care free of charge, and to eliminate charges at primary health care level facilities such as dispensaries and health centres, will go a long way in achieving this goal.
But this will only happen if both levels of government commit resources to compensate health facilities for “free” services offered.
Second, it is time medical professionals crawled out of their hallowed ivory towers and faced the reality that their patients are dying not because of a lack of expertise, but due to a lack of political involvement.
We must engage politicians in charge of policy formulation and the technocrats in charge of implementation more proactively.
We must begin to see more policy papers and technical analyses of government policy emanating from professional associations such as the Kenya Medical Association. We must see more advocacy for our voiceless patients coming from KMA and other associations of caring professionals.
To this end, therefore, one expects to see a radically different meeting this year, with more tangible deliverables as well.
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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