An assistant minister’s incognito visit to Bungoma District Hospital this week could easily have passed as a popularity stunt. But underneath lies a fundamental issue, namely the rot in public hospitals.
When the assistant minister, Mr Alfred Khangati, went to the hospital and lined up with other patients, he was instantly hit by the lethargy and inefficiency in attending to the sick.
But the worst scenario was when he visited the wards and saw the level of ineptitude in the public institution.
The scene can easily be replicated in any public hospital across the country. In fact, cynics are wont to say that the assistant minister did not expect to find anything better.
Significantly, this episode serves to demonstrate to the Government, particularly, Medical and Public Health ministries, that their services are terribly wanting.
Despite the high profile conferences and press conferences on health sector reforms — complete with impressive statistics — the truth is that medical services have nearly collapsed.
Public hospitals and dispensaries are poorly equipped, insufficiently staffed and the morale is low. Drugs and other provisions are scarce and the few times they are supplied, they are misappropriated through well-known cartels in every locality.
Unless one has deep pockets to pay for the exorbitant prices in private hospitals, the rank and file of the citizens live in perpetual danger.
Studies about the conditions of public health institutions are legion and the issues are pretty clear. What is clearly lacking is the will to deal with them. When the Government talks of improving medical care, it must be ready to fund it.
In 2001, for example, Kenya joined other nations in making the Abuja declaration, which among others, committed governments to increase health financing to 15 per cent of the GDP.
Yet, as of last year’s budget, Kenya’s health kitty stood at about five per cent of the GDP, a far cry from the recommended international standards.
For a government committed to providing universal health care, much needs to be done to eliminate the sorry sight exposed at Bungoma this week.