Kenya’s health sector is starved of funds

Saturday March 12 2016

A patient is attended to under a tree at Mukutani Dispensary in Baringo south On February 29, 2016 after eating meat from a cow suspected to have died of anthrax. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A patient is attended to under a tree at Mukutani Dispensary in Baringo south On February 29, 2016 after eating meat from a cow suspected to have died of anthrax. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By WANDERA OJANJI

The government has proposed to increase spending on the health from Sh58.6 billion in the current financial year to Sh59 billion in the next financial year.

This is about 3.12 percent of the 1.89 trillion shillings proposed national budget for the next financial year.

While the increase is indeed a welcome gesture from the government, it falls short of what many in the health sector expected. In April 2001, Kenya as a signatory to the Abuja Declaration, committed to allocate, by 2015, at least 15 per cent of her annual budget to the health sector.

But ever since, the Kenya government, like many countries in the sub-Saharan Africa region, has continued to reduce this percentage. According to The Human Resources for Health (HRH) Advocacy project, the government of Kenya has consistently underfunded the health sector.

Expenditure on health as a total government spending percent of GDP remained consistently below eight per cent between 2001 and 2009 and now has dropped to an all-time low of 3.12 per cent.

Instead of increasing budgetary allocation to the health sector to at least meet the 15 per cent target, the government appears keen on reducing it. During the 2014/15 financial year, the government allocated only Sh47.4 billion, constituting four per cent of the national budget. It was 3.4 percent for 2013/14 financial year. Compare this to 5.4 per cent in 2009.

This is, indeed, a worrying trend. Budgetary allocations are crucial indicators of the commitment of any government to the implementation of national policies for a particular sector.

The trend leaves serious concerns as to how the government will indeed implement the very good policies, strategies and action plans it has put in place to improve the health sector.

EXTERNAL FORCES

The government appears to rely more on external resources to finance the health sector, which is not sustainable.

This continued underfunding clearly undermines the very government’s commitment to achieving improved health status for all. Its impact goes beyond the health sector into other critical sectors like education for all. The Constitution stipulates that every child has the right to health care, basic nutrition, and basic education.

The shocking government statistics on health care, nutrition, and education are therefore not surprising: Over 10 million people in Kenya suffer from chronic food insecurity and poor nutrition; 25 per cent of all children under five years are malnourished; in some districts, a quarter of all children under five are acutely malnourished; 35 per cent of children under age of five years are stunted, 16 per cent are underweight and seven per cent are wasted.

Prof Judith Kimiywe, an Associate Professor Food, Nutrition and Dietetics at Kenyatta University warns that the proportion of wasted and underweight children is negatively correlated with the level of education, health and nutrition status of the mother.

“That an estimated 2.1 million children are stunted is a serious national development concern as these children will never reach their full physical and mental potential.”

Policies, strategies and Action Plans such as the Kenya Health Strategic Plan, the Food and Nutrition Security Policy, and the Kenya National Nutritional Action Plan, and the National School Health Strategy Implementation Plan will never be successfully implemented if the government continues underfunding the health sector.