A video of a woman giving birth outside Pumwani Maternity Hospital recently surfaced on the internet resulting in immediate and justified uproar among Kenyans. While childbirth is meant to be a joyful moment celebrated by loved ones this poor lady and her newborn were stripped off their dignity by the hospital staff who turned them away. One would wonder whether this was the same country where a few days before the incident, numerous elected officials made public calls for decorum and respect for mothers following some political utterances made to that regard.
Is this respect for mothers something that only a few are privileged to experience? Article 28 of the Constitution states that “Every person has inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.” Why was this lady then denied this right through inhumane incident? Is the state of our healthcare services proving what we’ve known for a while, that our systems are effective for a select few? Further, Article 43(1)(a) also guarantees every Kenyan the highest attainable standard of health. How then are we treated to such unpleasant news 10 years after the passing of the Constitution?
It speaks to a certain level of negligence, incompetence and discrimination against Kenyans from disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite being a devolved function, health services continue to under-deliver for many Kenyans who depend on public facilities for their well-being. The Pumwani Maternity Hospital is not exactly new to controversy. Exactly two years back, Nairobi Governor Gideon Mbuvi ‘Sonko’ found 12 dead babies stuffed in boxes and plastic bags. He then called for an investigation as the hospital admitted to being overburdened and underfunded. However, not many reforms have taken place as the hospital’s capacity is still stretched thin in its capacity to handle the high number of patients from Nairobi county and its neighbours.
As it had been anticipated, the disruption brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic shifted all focus to the virus that has ravaged the globe and one of the side effects has been the rising number of other illnesses. Facilities like Pumwani Maternity Hospital had already been facing challenges of underfunding and understaffing which put them at a disadvantage once Covid-19 landed in the country. Once all government focus shifted to fighting the virus, some issues like the rising malaria cases started being observed which was telling on the leadership’s management of the virus and its impact on healthcare generally. As the government looks back on its progress against Covid-19 one of the key lessons they’ll take home is the need for effective management of diseases both of immediate and continuous nature to ensure that no Kenyan dies simply because they were not on the government radar.
Finally, the matter of government accountability is one that requires consistent nudging to ensure that satisfactory responses and steps are taken for Kenyans to get value for money. Since the transfer of the deed of functions from the Nairobi County government to the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), Nairobi residents and those from neighbouring counties have hoped to receive better services. The road improvement projects undertaken by NMS initially gave an impression of improved services to Nairobi county residents, but the incident at Pumwani Hospital has cast doubts on whether the General Badi-led team has their priorities right. As it undertakes its oversight role on devolved units, Parliament particularly the Senate needs to ensure that the NMS undertakes prudent use of the resources allocated under them for proper service delivery to all Kenyans regardless of class.