The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has returned our attention to the ages old question of AFFORDABILITY AND AVAILABILITY of QUALITY healthcare to majority of Kenyans. Despite the fact that healthcare is a Constitutional right, quality healthcare is not just unavailable to most Kenyans. It is unaffordable. The hardest hit are the poor, both in urban and rural areas.
Today, four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance. Among the poorest segment of our population, only three per cent have health insurance. An overwhelming majority of our people therefore rely on out-of-pocket expenses to pay for treatment.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how risky reliance on the pocket to pay for healthcare can be. It piled more pressure on the millions of Kenyans who drop into poverty every year because of health expenses. There is evidence that there are people who avoid going to health facilities even though they need the services because they fear the cost associated with such a visit.
In the current pandemic, tens of hundreds of Kenyans have died simply because they could not afford hospital fees even when they could access the facilities. What this means is that for a greater segment of our population, dropping into poverty or dropping dead are just one infection away. This burden needs to be taken away from the necks of our people.
Kenyans are crying for, and deserve insurance subsidies that cover their inpatient and outpatient health needs in both public and private hospitals. It has always been our dream as a nation to deliver Universal Health Care to all Kenyans.
The first real attempt at this took place under the NARC government when then Health Minister Charity Ngilu presented a Bill on Universal Health Care. The National Assembly shot down the Bill. We made another attempt under the Grand Coalition government with focus on turning the National Hospital Insurance Fund into a major institution for provision of health insurance.
The drive towards universal health care has gained new impetus in recent years, and President Uhuru Kenyatta has included it in the Big Four Agenda. The will to embrace the health agenda should be appreciated and embraced by all, including health workers and our citizens.
Political goodwill is usually a very critical first step towards the realization of national policy goals. But provision of quality, affordable and accessible healthcare is challenging anywhere on earth, including in developed countries.
It requires patience, understanding, sacrifice and focus on the bigger picture and the future. It involves massive public expenditure and requires a lot of creativity, a lot of new rules and several new institutions all of which require money and personnel. But it has to be done.
That is why we need to embrace and encourage initiatives like the one we are launching here in Mvita today. It is a step in the desired direction. In the BBI process, we take access to quality and affordable healthcare as a matter of Shared Prosperity.
The BBI takes the position that when only a tiny section of the population can buy health at any cost anywhere on earth, while a majority just wait to die when they fall sick, we cannot rightly describe ourselves as one indivisible nation that cares for all its citizens.
That is why we came up with the Health Amendment Bill to establish the National Health Commission. The NHC is expected to make recommendations on policies for management of healthcare workers and monitor implementation of national policies for management of healthcare workers by countries.
NHC is also proposed to set and review norms and standards on health matters. The end result is to deal with the questions of QUALITY, ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY of healthcare.
It should be obvious that to fully take care of the health of our people, we need an accelerated staff recruitment, better links between local and higher-level health facilities, timely funding and supply of medical commodities as well as coordination and management. This is where NHC comes in.
I welcome efforts by the government to provide universal health coverage which started on a pilot basis in selected counties. Going forward and to support the envisaged insurance coverage, we will need to continue with reforms to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and make it more professional and responsive to the changing needs of the population and the demands of the health sector.
We need to move towards establishing a mandatory universal health coverage scheme, which means reforming and strengthening the NHIF can’t wait.
I appeal to organizations like the World Health Organization to scale up support to the country by providing technical assistance particularly in the areas of health financing, ensuring adequate health workforce, improvement of the skills of the workers, reforming the NHIF, establishment of a digital health platform for Kenya and, PARTICULARLY, SOCIAL PROTECTION that ensures financing as well as subsidizing medical costs for low-income citizens.
If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it must be that we have no option but to scale up universal health coverage as a way to ensure access to high-quality health services without the financial burdens that it entails currently.
Falling sick must not be a death sentence to our people just because they are poor. We must give our people the means to get the best treatment at all times, in any facility, in every part of the country. That is Shared Prosperity.