Tharaka Nithi County is set to provide medical cover for over 92,000 households as it launches its Universal Health Care (UHC) project today, named TN-Care.
The launch, that will take place at Mumbuni Dispensary in Muthambi Sub-county, will mark the beginning of a vigorous two-year exercise to place more than 440,250 people in the county under National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).
Currently only 36,894 people are covered by NHIF, and the devolved unit will seek to more than triple this number.
“Elderly and under-five year old sections of our population are not charged for health services at their point of use. However, a majority of our population would be encouraged to pay for health insurance cover to enable them access services when they fall sick,” Dr Gichuyia Nthuraku M’Riara, the County Executive for health said.
The low numbers in NHIF coverage are as a result of the varying socioeconomic set-ups where a large percentage cannot afford medical cover.
While a section of Tharaka Nithi is agricultural due to its proximity to Mt Kenya, a huge chunk of it is arid and semi-arid, especially on the lower altitude eastern and northern areas where rain fed agricultural economic activities perform poorly.
For the people living in these areas, some are able to pay for health services from their pockets at the point of service, while others may not afford.
For this reason, the county administration is looking to register its residents under the NHIF medical scheme with the aim of reducing the burden of having to pay cash for medical services.
Today, the county will launch the registration process of NHIF cover, after which an expansive registration drive will continue across the county.
In its drive to achieve universal health care, which is part of the national government’s agenda pillars, Tharaka Nithi County aims to cushion locals against costly medical services.
Universal health coverage means every person, irrespective of their socio-economic status, has access to good quality health services without having to go through any financial hardship.
This is already being piloted in Nyeri, Kisumu, Isiolo and Machakos counties, with up 3.2 million beneficiaries. The county will be betting on intense public sensitization to speed up the enrolment process of the NHIF medical cover.
“Most diseases in Tharaka Nithi County are largely preventable, so investing in health service at the community level is critical. Patients that will not be managed at the community level service, which is basically preventive and promotive, will have to be attended to at our dispensaries and health centers, which are currently well stocked with drugs and other commodities to offer services free of charge,” Dr Gichuyia explained.
Nevertheless, the county government expects to witness a growth in the number of patients seeking medical services once the NHIF registration is actualised.
“Our facilities are well-resourced to cope with the expected rise in health service consumers. We already have in place services in all fields of general medical, surgical and paediatrics care that include those that are currently covered by NHIF,” the health executive explained.
Already, all outpatient services are covered by NHIF, including optical, orthopedic, dental and physiotherapy. Others covered in the outpatient department are occupational therapy, maternal health, paediatrics and family planning.
Specialized services, among them renal dialysis and x-ray services, will also be covered under the NHIF scheme. Using the NHIF cards, residents of Tharaka Nithi will also be able to access laboratory services. Key tests such as prostate gland specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer are payable through NHIF.
The county renal unit has a five-bed capacity and dialyses an average of four patients per day. Renal dialysis services are fully paid for through NHIF. The scheme, once in place, will complement other corporate insurance providers that have already been accredited in the county facilities.
“Our other levels of service delivery are already accredited as service delivery points where NHIF and other health insurers pay for services to members of the community that are registered with them,” Dr Gachuyia explained.
As part of its efforts to actualise the health agenda, the Muthomi Njuki-led administration has already put up 29 community health units in all 15 wards of the county.
During the 2018/2019 financial year, the county will increase the community health units to 100 and acquire services from 1,000 community health volunteers.
The units will help in dealing with the top 10 diseases that are reported in the county. The diseases are upper respiratory tract infections, skin diseases, intestinal worms, arthritis, urinary tract infection, high blood pressure, pneumonia, diarrhoea, eye infections and malaria.
Additionally, the county has benefitted from the national government’s Managed Equipment Services (MES) project, where modern medical equipment have been installed. The county is also in the process of implementing several upgrade projects in its facilities and medical equipment.
Key among the projects is the Chuka County Referral Hospital, which is set to get an upgrade to a level five specialized health service institution.
“This upgrade will reverse the currently very expensive procedure where emergency services that require a higher level of service are referred to destinations outside Tharaka Nithi County,” the CEC argued. Electrical power will also be upgraded to accommodate the increased power demand.