The shocking death of a student in Elgeyo-Marakwet County has exposed the lapse in the healthcare system in public boarding schools, some of which lack the most basic wherewithal to deal with emergencies.
The unnamed Form One student from Sing’ore Girls High School died last week, a few hours after being checked into Iten County Referral Hospital with malaria symptoms following an outbreak in the region.
A number of schools have been affected by the outbreak, including St Patrick’s Boys, AIC Kessup Girls, Mutei Girls, Tot and Arror secondary schools.
And as more cases of malaria continue to be reported in the county, a spot check by the Saturday Nation in some schools revealed different levels of epidemic preparedness.
Some schools have been caught flat-footed, having not employed a single medical worker; while others are struggling to make do with a single nurse for a huge number of students.
Education stakeholders expressed concerns that despite students spending most of the year in school, they are treated to poorly equipped sanatoriums run by quacks and ‘persons of goodwill,’ who dispense painkillers for every ailment and antacids at best.
Already, laxity by leaders to set up working healthcare systems has claimed lives of several learners in various schools across the country, most of whom were reported dead either in school or arrival at hospitals.
Parents are unceasingly in a state of panic each time a student is declared dead, more so under avoidable circumstances such as a malaria attack.
Those interviewed said they are always anxious over the welfare of their children even as principals heap the blame on the Ministry of Education.
“The well-being of our children is a big concern that leaves many parents paranoid.
“That students die of treatable illnesses like malaria in this day points to a great loophole in how treatments are dispensed in schools,” the National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said.
Mr Maiyo faulted principals for failing to take charge or even inform parents whenever their children are unwell.
“It is very painful for a parent to learn about the death of their child, when nobody informed them of their sickness,” he said.
But Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (Kepsha) chairman Kahi Indimuli said principals do their best with limited resources.
Mr Indimuli said this has been compounded further by increased enrolment due to the 100 per cent transition policy.
“No principal would watch as a sick student dies in school without taking them to hospital,” said Mr Indimuli, adding that cases that happen in schools should be handled individually.
He said the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) cover introduced by the government in public secondary schools in 2018 is a welcome remedy to the situation.
The Ministry of Education listed 5,314 accredited health facilities to cover secondary school students.
The hospitals were also asked to set up emergency facilities near the schools. Things seem not to have changed much despite the cover.
Under the Free Day Secondary Education Programme, the medical vote head is handled by the government through NHIF, unlike before when the money used to be sent directly to schools, hence principals struggle with minimal resources in a bid to keep the students comfortable.
Back to Elgeyo-Marakwet, Sing’ore Girls’ Principal Linet Besi declined to comment on the death of the student or their preparedness.
Moi Kapsowar Girls’ Principal Hellen Obare said despite the swelling numbers of students in the school, they were doing all within their means to secure their health through the institution’s link with Kapsowar Mission Hospital.