President Uhuru Kenyatta heads to the Caribbean in a historic visit to the island of Cuba on Tuesday, seeking a helping hand for his healthcare policy in the Big Four Agenda.
The president will be visiting the region for the first time since he took office in 2013.
It will also be the first visit by a Kenyan head of state since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 2001.
State House said on Monday that the agenda of the trip will be boosting cooperation in health, sports and culture.
“Cuba has a well-developed health sector which has achieved great milestones such as discovery of vaccines against lung cancer, and the eradication of malaria. Cuba is also home to a thriving pharmaceutical industry,” State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu said.
“There is a great opportunity during the President's visit for the two nations to expand the MoU on implementation for the achievement of universal healthcare, an important deliverable in President Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda,” Mr Esipisu added, referring to an agreement signed between Kenya and Cuba last year.
Officials say the President sees Cuba as important in helping him achieve some of the Big Four issues, which include universal healthcare, adequate housing, manufacturing and food security.
Cuba, despite being under the communist leadership of Fidel Castro - who died in November 2016 - for five decades, has achieved what the World Health Organisation calls a model healthcare system.
Based on socialist tenets, Castro engineered a system based on accessibility and preventive medicine (vaccination) and regarded health as a basic human right.
Health services are offered for free and include check-ups, surgery, medical dispensing and doctor visitations.
Under Fidel’s brother Raul, the World Bank reports that Cuba’s community health has remained intact, reporting an infant mortality rate of four in 1,000 live births and a life expectancy of 80.
Kenya’s infant mortality rate is 37 out of 1,000 live births while the life expectancy is 62.
In Cuba, one medical doctor can serve up to 150 patients, beyond the World Health Organisation standard ratio of one doctor per 300 people.
In Kenya, a doctor has to work harder because he stands for 16,000 patients.
A preparatory concept note for the President’s visit said Kenya could tap into Cuba’s pharmaceuticals as well as its medical missions.
While Cuban doctors earn little at home - sometimes less than Sh10,000 a month - Havana often gets good revenues by sending its doctors abroad, earning about Sh640 billion a year, in form of portions of salaries paid by foreign governments to the doctors.
“The President will explore how to build Kenyan capacity, increase the number of medical specialists in orthopaedic surgery, oncology, neurology, and trauma management; and collaborate in research on cancer and diabetes drugs, and eradication of malaria,” State House said on Monday.
“Cuba is interested in registering and selling its pharmaceutical products in the Kenyan market. It is also keen to cooperate in vector control.
President Kenyatta will encourage Cuba to set up a pharmaceutical plant in Kenya to serve the East and Central Africa regional market.”
Cuba’s engagements with the outside world had been limited until 2016 when the US agreed to lift the sanctions it imposed on the country in the 1960s, and reopened its embassy in Havana.
President Barack Obama then made a historic visit to Havana. A few months later, Kenya announced it would open an embassy in Cuba.
On Monday, Kenya said it would support Cuba to have the remaining sanctions imposed to it dropped, in exchange for a vote for a temporary seat for Kenya at the UN Security Council in 2021.
The temporary seat is not influential when the UN’s most powerful organ votes on substantial matters but often provides a country with good image and opportunity to lobby for favourable policies within the UN.
A temporary member can chair the UN Security Council, granting it an opportunity to influence a particular stand on issues of regional security.
Kenya has been a member of the council twice, but not during President Kenyatta’s tenure.