As the government seeks to ensure universal health coverage by 2022 to guarantee access to quality and affordable care, residents in Taita-Taveta are still going to Tanzania to seek treatment.
A number of residents, especially in the border town of Taveta, say they prefer travelling to hospitals in Tanzania as they are cheap, well equipped and the health workers are friendly.
Some of the Tanzanian hospitals which offer the much-needed services to residents are Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi and Faraja Health Centre in Himo District.
Patrick Mnyange is recuperating at his home after he was discharged from Faraja on January 18. Mnyange, who had been admitted at the hospital for a month, says he has spent over Sh150,000 at the hospital after he was attacked with a machete in December last year. He was taken to Taveta hospital but did not get treatment he sought. His family decided to take him to Tanzania.
"We would have lost him because he was bleeding and his hands needed immediate treatment. Now, he is feeling better," says Mnyange’s wife Floice Rusiana.
She says during their stay at the hospital, eight other patients from across the county were admitted there. "Some were from Werugha, Kasigau, Voi and Taveta town. They were in the ward we were in," she says.
Another family in Bura Ndogo village has a patient at Kilimanjaro Christian hospital. Juma Miraj says his niece, 14, needs over Sh100,000 to undergo an urgent surgery to remove a tumour from her stomach.
The family’s efforts to seek treatment at local hospitals were futile due to lack of specialised treatment and drugs. "The doctors at Taveta hospital referred us to Tanzania. They admitted there are no facilities here to treat her," he says.
In terms of healthcare, the county government has been facing a number of challenges including minimal budgets, acute shortage of drugs, frequent strikes by workers, poor infrastructure and equipment.
Last year, the county hospitals faced an acute shortage of drugs, but the government managed to buy a consignment from Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) worth Sh49 million in December.
The county government has now established a central drug store in Wundanyi to curb theft of medicine from the hospitals and control the flow of the medicine. In addition, over 300 casuals in the Health department were sacked in December in efforts to reduce the county's wage bill.
A number of hospitals have been closed down for lack of cleaners with health workers declining to give services in a dirty environment.
The vice chairperson of Community Health Volunteers at Ndilidau health centre in Taveta, Agostino Nguruwi, says they were forced to wash the facility after the county government fired cleaners.
Last week, the county chief officer for Health Philomena Kirote directed hospital administrators to hire cleaners who will be paid Sh300 daily. “You are hereby advised to ensure that cleaners are engaged in all rural facilities on a daily basis at the rate of Sh300 per day. The dispensaries are allowed to engage one cleaner while health centres two cleaners per day,” his letter stated.