One of the issues that President Uhuru Kenyatta has prioritised in his leadership is healthcare. Early in his presidency, he decreed that free maternal healthcare be provided in public hospitals. This has had its challenges, but it is soldiering on. Today, many women from poor families deliver in public hospitals without paying a single cent.
It is not surprising, therefore, that affordable healthcare is one of the four pillars of the government’s Big Four agenda. The others are food security, affordable housing, and manufacturing. Under the healthcare pillar is the ambitious Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programme, which seeks to take quality healthcare closer to the people. The overall objective is commendable, but the logistics remain a huge challenge, hence the need for the pilot scheme in just four counties. The scheme gave a glimpse into what is possible if all the challenges are met, leading to its roll-out in all the other 43 counties.
The good news is that the government has just released Sh1.8 billion for the procurement of the required health products and technologies for the UHC pilot in the four selected counties. Seventy per cent of the money sent to the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency will be used to buy drugs and basic medical equipment and the rest to strengthen health systems in counties, as this is a devolved function.
Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki is upbeat about the progress, pointing out that despite the various challenges, including inadequate qualified health professionals, the UHC dream can still be realised. It is also an indication that national roll-out will be possible. The counties in the Sh3.1 billion Afya Care Initiative are Kisumu, Machakos, Isiolo and Nyeri, targeting 3.2 million Kenyans. This experimental phase of the UHC should provide viable lessons on how to improve access to quality healthcare for the majority poor Kenyans, which, though costly, is a right that all Kenyans deserve. A healthy population is a productive one and is key to national prosperity.