Over recent years, Kenya has tackled literacy, per capita income and life expectancy. Emboldened by its progress, the country is now rising to a new challenge
By Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya
It has been more than 50 years since Kenya’s founding fathers made their independence pledge to address the three challenges that plagued our people: poverty, disease and ignorance. In the years gone by, Kenya has one of the highest adult literacy rates on the African continent, the life expectancy of its people has increased from 48 years to 67 years, and the average per capita gross income has grown from $100 to $1,460.
While this progress is something that we reflect on with pride, we recognise that with the advent of the Sustainable Development Goals for health, the aspirations of our founding fathers are now to be measured using refined parameters that have been adopted across the world and embodied in the global agenda for universal health coverage. We recognise that even as we take stock of our wins, the journey is far from over. Kenyans continue to bear the costs of the rising burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
These diseases are eroding the gains that have been made over time and risk driving more than one million of our most vulnerable citizens into poverty every year.
As I am the custodian of the dreams and aspirations of my people, my administration has committed to guarantee all Kenyans access to affordable health care through the universal health coverage pillar of the Big 4 Agenda. This commitment can be summarised by three basic expectations: first, to ensure that every Kenyan can access affordable good-quality health services closest to where they live; second, to ensure that Kenyans do not have to deplete their savings in order to access these services; and third, most importantly, to ensure that we improve even further the average life expectancy of every Kenyan to above 70 years.
Since 2013, I have instituted significant health sector reforms that have resulted in increased access to health services by our citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. We have removed user charges at all government primary healthcare facilities. We have introduced free maternity services at all government facilities under our Linda Mama programme, which translates to “protect our mothers”. This programme is well complemented by the Beyond Zero campaign, an initiative of Kenya’s First Lady that targets the safety and well-being of our mothers and children before, during and immediately after delivery.
In addition, my administration has championed the roll-out of the new, acclaimed managed equipment services programme that has seen the government equip more than 100 hospitals across the country with equipment for renal dialysis, intensive care, operating theatres and radiology services. This means that Kenyans across the country now have access to these lifesaving interventions that were previously a preserve of those residing in our big cities. To date more than 3.5 million patients have benefitted from these services.
The next step
In order to achieve the aspiration of universal health coverage, we started a pilot programme in four counties. The counties were selected for displaying characteristic disparities in disease profiles and in access to health services that would form representative samples for the rest of the country. The pilot places interventions in both preventive and curative health services, with more focus on primary health care. Resources have been invested to reactivate the community health strategy through training and kitting community health workers and facilitating public health services.
Kenyans in these four pilot counties are now able to access health services and essential medicines in primary care and secondary care hospitals. With the lessons learned from this pilot phase, we have now embarked on plans for gradually scaling up universal health coverage to the entire country.
Given that we require interventions for sustainable universal health coverage, additional investments and efficiency will be required. In this regard, we plan to undertake reforms in the National Hospital Insurance Fund to transform and reposition it as a strategic purchaser of health services while improving efficiencies offered by pooling resources. We are also undertaking reforms in the Kenya Medical Supplies’ Authority to ensure that the medical commodities we procure are of the highest quality but within affordable prices. In this spirit of efficiency, my administration will continue to enhance collaborative efforts between the national and devolved county governments to fully realise the gain of decentralised health services.
Further still, we shall require efficiency from our development partners. It is imperative that they align with our strategies as well as our resources. Our partners in the private sector and civil society all have a strong complementary role to play through favourable public-private partnerships.
Finally, I urge all leaders in developing countries to make the highest political commitment towards health, to pursue the attainment of universal health coverage as a critical driver of national cohesion and economic prosperity.