Kenya's healthcare should not follow the Eva Peron model

Friday April 1 2016

The Beyond Zero Campaign initiative, started by the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, has had considerable success in mobilising resources aimed at improving maternal health.

It was started back in 2013 to champion and improve maternal and child health outcomes. In a country where thousands of children die before their fifth birthday from preventable causes among other serious maternal challenges like lack of immunisation and HIV/Aids infection, this indeed was a noble idea.

Three years on, it has gathered momentum, gaining more sponsors both public, private and from philanthropic individuals with each subsequent year, with donations increasing over the years.

So far, 36 out of 47 counties have benefited from the fully kitted clinics.

I will digress a little by telling a story. María Eva Duarte de Perón was the wife of Juan Perón, the president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and again in 1973-74.

Evita, as she was popularly known was one of the most controversial, influential public figures of her time. To her fans, she was saint-like and compassionate. To her cynics she was an uncontrollable spender.

Evita took up upon herself to improve social welfare in Argentina and in 1948, established the María Eva Duarte de Perón Foundation.

The foundation’s goal was to provide monetary support and scholarships to gifted children from impoverished backgrounds, build homes, schools, hospitals and orphanages in underprivileged areas and provide employment for the less privileged.

TAXES TO CHARITY

Although the foundation was popular with the poor, it was much less so with the rich, who didn't always donate willingly.

The foundation quickly gained publicity, and in a few years, was better funded and managed than many state agencies in Argentina.

Argentina’s Congress, according to this Wikipedia entry, even went as far as passing legislation that saw a proportion of all lottery tickets, cinema tickets and gambling games played in casinos given to the Foundation.

Unfortunately, Eva Peron died in 1952, and thus the decline of the Foundation began. By 1955 it was no more.

Evita Perón, First Lady of Argentina and Golda

Evita Perón, First Lady of Argentina and Golda Meir, Israeli politician and future Prime Minister of Israel, on April 9, 1951. PHOTO | PUBLIC DOMAIN

The moral of the story is that the wellbeing of the majority of a society, or a segment of it, cannot be left in the hands of a few individuals, or at the mercy of charities.

In fact many might argue that the purpose of charities is not to replace, but to complement, government’s work. When you look at the list of contributors to the Beyond Zero campaign last year for example, several government entities stand out.

Mr William Ruto, the Deputy President, donated Sh17 million, the Ministry of Health gave Sh3 million and Kakamega County Sh1 million. Basically, government officials gave our taxes to a charity, to support work that the government itself should be doing.

It does not end there. The Ministry of Health was among the ministries that benefited from a substantial percentage of the budget in the 2015-2016 financial year.

So the big question is what happened to the money allocated toward funding maternal health activities. The answer is, it is mismanaged and stolen.

COMPLEMENT GOVERNMENT

A recent survey by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) shows that the Health Ministry was the second most corrupt government institution.

The same survey went on to reveal that Kenyans are bribing to access health services in both country and national government hospitals.

This begs the question: what is the point of government entities and institutions contributing to initiatives like Beyond Zero instead of using appropriately the funds allocated to health? Aren’t the donations reminiscent of what Argentina's Congress did for Eva Peron’s foundation?

If we were to curb corruption and stem mismanagement of money allocated to fund health and health facilities, don’t you think we would have fewer charities doing what the government ought to be doing for its citizens, who have already done their part by paying taxes?

Many first ladies around the world have causes they support once they get into that position. Let these causes complement what the government of the day is doing, rather than divert state resources to support their initiatives.

To drive the point home, look no further than the Affordable Care Act in the United States. Obamacare, as Americans like to call it, expands and improves access to care and curbs spending through regulations and taxes.

It has greatly reduced the need for charity care programs which supported the poor and the uninsured in America, and there is no reason Kenya cannot move in the same direction.

Mr Mwangi is a development communications specialist.