Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Voters sold their right to health for Sh20

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 09 March 2014

Kenya’s health sector is in a shambles. Hundreds of health workers have now worked for over two months without pay because the national and county governments cannot agree on who is responsible for them. Shortages of medicines and important supplies are rife, even as governors try to outdo each other in ‘flagging off’ lorryloads of medications in their counties. As a result, ordinary Kenyans are suffering.

A few weeks ago, a middle-aged man from my village suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital. The local hospital could not manage his condition because he needed intensive care facilities that were not available. The nearest referral facility was over a hundred kilometers away in another county, but the family organised quickly to transport him there.

When they got to the hospital, all the intensive care unit (ICU) beds were occupied, and they were informed that the next available ICU beds were at a nearby private hospital. The relatives agreed to have him admitted at the private hospital where after more than a week in the unit, and despite the best efforts of the team managing him, the patient died.

This is when the problems began for the family. Intensive care is very expensive business, and the family was asked to raise over a million shillings to clear the hospital bill. This poor family could only raise a fraction of the cost and had to beg the hospital to release the body for burial. This took a while to happen, and in the meantime the family looked around for someone to take responsibility for their conundrum. Of course doctors and other health workers bore the brunt of their criticism. 


This is not a scenario unique to my village, or indeed to any one part of our country. This is a story every ordinary family of Kenyans has had to live through at some point. Unfortunately, when it happens, we turn against the very same health workers who have struggled in very difficult circumstances to save lives, and accuse them of all manner of ills.

In my discussion with the bereaved family, it struck me that they all could not make the important connection between their own choices and the fate that befell them. I asked them if they had informed any of their elected representatives about their problem. They informed me that the politicians had done their duty before elections, and owed the electorate nothing. Their twenty and fifty-shilling handouts had bought these villagers’ votes, and there was no use approaching them to solve such ‘small’ problems as the health of their constituents, among others.

Flabbergasted, I attempted to demonstrate that if they had voted based on policies and not because of clan, family and handout considerations, perhaps their local hospital would have been better equipped to save their relative’s life. Perhaps the county referral facility would have had well-equipped ICU facilities, with adequate beds to help all those in need.

Perhaps they would have had functioning ambulance services that would have arrived a few minutes after the patient collapsed, and carried out onsite procedures that would have prevented further damage and improved his prognosis. If they had used their vote better, perhaps their relative would not have collapsed in the first place.

I do not know if I managed to convince them, but I hope I did. 

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. lukoye@gmail.com

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say something about this post!