Covid-19 Reminds Us of the Much-needed Health Reforms

Posted by on 23rd November 2020

Categories:   Uncategorised

In early 2017, Kenya’s striking doctors used the hashtag – #MyBadDoctorExperience” to tell their horror stories on social media. For about 50 days, the Kenyan public health system was at a standstill. This was a health crisis, as told by the doctors in the trenches. Three years later in the midst of a pandemic with little to no basic improvement in the health care system, medics are now raising concerns over life-threatening working conditions.

Recent weeks have seen a worrying number of healthcare and frontline workers succumb to Coronavirus. This is despite medical workers, through their respective unions, making several attempts to seek the audience with the government over the unavailability of Protective Personal Equipment (PPEs), provision of a Covid-19 medical cover for when they fall sick and their compensation. An indication that soon the already overstretched health facilities and medics will reach their elastic limit with the rising numbers of the Covid-19 infections.

The second wave of the pandemic seems to have caught the national and county governments flat-footed yet huge sums of money, in the form of annual county allocations and conditional grants, were disbursed to counties during the early stages of the pandemic in the country. As of September 12th 2020, only seven counties were reported to have attained the 300-isolation-bed capacity for Covid-19 preparedness. To mean that the other 40 counties have to quickly come up with ways to meet this demand. While these concerns have been voiced over and over again, the political class seems to have slept on the job and were recently jolted to the reality of a broken healthcare system when Matungu MP Justus Murunga collapsed and died shortly.

It is reported that the late MP collapsed at his home and was rushed to Matungu sub-county hospital where they could not admit him due to the hospital’s lack of oxygen. The family then quickly started their journey to St Mary’s Mission Hospital about 10 kilometres away during which the MP’s condition deteriorated. He was admitted to the casualty department where efforts to resuscitate him didn’t bear fruit. This news saddened and maddened his colleagues who pointed fingers at governors for failure to strengthen the healthcare services.

While expected, the legislators’ reactions have since drawn a lot of criticism from Kenyans. Kenyans have for a long time endured long trips to access medical care and specialized treatment, dealt with crazy hospital bills and fallen into debt while seeking treatment and died over negligence. The political class, on the other hand, has seemed detached from most Kenyans’ reality having the privilege to access world-class health care either in private facilities, that are mostly based in Nairobi or outside the country. All the while ignoring the need and importance of localizing emergency treatment and equipping all county hospitals and clinics for such eventualities.

The nonchalant approach by representatives, unfortunately, failed to factor in such possibilities where their health and life can be in the hands of the very local health facilities that they have ignored for a while. When the country announced its first positive Covid-19 case in March, Makueni Senator, Mutula Kilonzo expressed how leaders would now realize that the disease did not discriminate on social status. Though the sentiments shared were from an economic lens, the words still ring relevant to our current situation.

It is sad that the late Murunga’s life could not be saved but it calls for leaders to look inwards and self-evaluate. Development should not be driven by self-serving interests. Provision of services should not be viewed as a favour to the citizenry but as a basic right that is provided for by the Constitution, that needs to be fulfilled. Public service is essentially conducted for posterity and with the goal to meet the needs of all without discriminating. This is a call to the leaders both at the county and national level to ensure services are provided efficiently, expeditiously and with openness.

Parliamentarians have an even bigger task to oversight the executive’s spend of public resources to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money.

While the recent numbers indicate that we’re in for a couple of tough months, now is not the time for the leadership to drop the ball. Every Kenyan’s life matters and it is the responsibility of the government to guarantee the health and well-being of all.