Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has recently signed a new cooperation agreement with Cuban Minister of Public Health, Dr. Jose Angel Portal Miranda. The agreement is expected to ensure that 101 Cuban specialists travel to Kenya as part of a medical exchange programme.
Kenya’s healthcare system was devolved into the county governments from the national one after the promulgation of the new constitution in August 2010. The country is now divided into 47 counties under 47 governors.
The process of devolution is one of the main pillars of this constitution, which partly means that the public decision-making process and a significant part of implementation fall under regional leadership. So when it comes to healthcare, the county governors are essentially responsible for decision-making as well as controlling resources within their county jurisdictions with regard to the health sector.
What’s ailing Kenya’s healthcare system?
A report by Africa Health Business shows that approximately 25% of Kenyans have access to health insurance. These are covered under various platforms namely: public, private or community-based health insurance schemes. What this means is that the majority of Kenyans pay out of their pockets to gain access to health services. Now that is a problem. For public insurance, Kenya’s government provides public health insurance through a state corporation called the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).
Under the leadership of President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya has also adopted Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as one of the big four priority agendas. The President’s aspiration is to ensure all citizens get access to quality and affordable healthcare services that are preventative, promotive, rehabilitative, curative, palliative and effective so they are protected from financial hardship. So far the program has been piloted in four counties namely Isiolo, Machakos, Nyeri and Kisumu.
But there are problems that the country keeps struggling with that dents the performance of the sector. These include inadequate public financing to sustain the healthcare system. Kenya’s poverty line is still high which also means that some people will not get access to healthcare for services that require out of pocket payment. Some services like maternal healthcare however, are free in public hospitals.
Another challenge being faced in the country is the high cost of quality healthcare as well as shortage of healthcare workers.
A study by KPMG shows that Kenyan rural areas have for a long time relied on community health volunteers and nurses who operate in public dispensaries. Economically, the poor and low-income classes are unable to access medical care due to high medical costs.
It is within this backdrop that the ministry of health has decided to sign the agreement with the Cuban government to help improve the country’s healthcare situation. What the government is looking to achieve with this is to pick lessons from the Caribbean island on the country’s world class primary healthcare delivery model. The country also has a highly successful programme that has been put in place to combat malaria.
What makes Cuban doctors ideal for Kenya?
To begin with, Cuba has a population of 9.7 million people and given the fact that it is a third world country that has been a victim of colonialism, many African countries look to it as a model for economic development.
This is because the country has no unemployment and no deaths from malnutrition. These are the very things that continue to plague the African continent in terms of the wellbeing of its citizens. Cuba also has one of the best healthcare systems in the world with Cuban doctors famed for working with revolutionised attitudes. There is also an equitable distribution of available goods in the country.
Kenya and Cuba have enjoyed a working relationship especially in the health sector since 2001. “There are many opportunities in Cuba that remain untapped, especially in the area of pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and vaccines. We look forward to a more robust collaboration,” said Health CS Kagwe.
This move comes at a time when the Kenyan government is looking to improve and strengthen Kenya’s primary healthcare system as a catalyst to achieving universal healthcare. The Ministry of Health has been working towards the provision of affordable health care to all by strengthening health systems, particularly public health facilities.
One of the key agendas in strengthening the system is to shift the focus from the current curative approach to preventative approach where financial and human resources are directed at primary health care.
The doctors will be distributed within the country to work at the county level to help boost health delivery capacity.
This is very important as the health sector no doubt serves as the country’s power store. This is to say that a good healthcare system is one that builds human capital, improves the welfare of the society, safeguards the country from health pandemics and improves the productivity of the people.