HEALTHY POPULATION FOR RESILIENT NATION:
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the failures and challenges facing our health system. It has lifted the lid on gaps that have denied our people access to health care, despite the fact that the 2010 Constitution requires, among other things, that every Kenyan has a right to access the highest standard of health services including reproductive health care.
If we are to learn any lesson from this pandemic, let it be that going forward, we have to do things differently with regard to the health and well-being of our people. The pandemic has taught us lessons of strengthening our resilience and doing things differently during challenging times.
The most urgent need facing this country today is how to ensure universal access to quality, affordable and reliable healthcare: both preventive and curative. From primary school days, we were told that prevention is better than cure.
Kenya needs a robust primary public healthcare system, starting from the family level to the public healthcare delivery system as a whole. COVID-19 found us off-guard with inadequate preventive health services while the curative services were equally wanting, with the best reserved for the elite who can pay for it.
In the current pandemic, even the elite driven approach has been tested and found below expectation. There are only so many hospitals and so many beds even for those with money. Recent memorable efforts to deal with the question of access to healthcare can be traced to the Narc and Grand coalition governments.
But even these efforts fell short of what the country really needs. It became clear that universal healthcare cannot entirely be financed by the exchequer. Going forward therefore, while we must relentlessly pursue the implementation of Universal Health Coverage and the requisite legal and institutional reforms needed, we need to urgently pay attention to the following.
First, we must invest in a Compulsory Health Insurance Scheme that takes care of both the employed and the unemployed, including farmers and the self-employed.
Two, we must ensure that this health insurance scheme gives the government primary responsibility to pay for the extreme poor (indigents) in rural and urban areas.
Three, that the rest of the population should contribute to, and receive health coverage from the insurance scheme under the principle of “from each according to his/her ability and to each according to his/her need.” In this arrangement, we can then put the money in a kitty from which everybody gets health insurance coverage in a sustainable manner.
Further, the insurance fund should be able to make additional revenue by investing in income generating activities. With such a fund, every Kenyan would be assured of accessing curative services without the debilitating effects of out-of- pocket expenses that is currently a big burden to families in every part of Kenya.
But even more importantly, even a universal health insurance scheme will fail in an environment that lacks proper primary and preventive health. Coronavirus has reminded us of things we knew but ignored.
We need to invest in basics like hygiene, access to clean water, good nutrition, clean environment and fitness. That is why urban canters need to have more space for non-motorized transport while the question of healthy feeding must be a national concern.
Fourth, we should set timelines within which we ensure substantial increase in the number of medical institutions, medical staff, medical insurance scheme, clinics and hospital beds and access to a diverse choice of quality and healthy food across the country.In the end, we must recognize that our most precious resource as a nation is the people. The healthier the people, the stronger the nation and the better our ability to grow from our own efforts.
Very soon, I will address myself to the important subjects of equipping our health facilities, Human resources development for healthcare and the necessary and needed relationship between public and private health care provision.
Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, EGH
July 31, 2021