On healthcare, let us not be limited

Monday October 14 2019

Health workers in Kisumu go on strike on September 18, 2019 over delayed salaries. Workers at public hospitals need better working conditions and remuneration. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Wangari Maathai is fondly associated with the hummingbird analogy.

You surely must know the bird. That minute-flying creature that kept fluttering its tiny weeny wings and blowing water into a burning forest hoping to put it out? Yes, that one.

Kenya is on the precipice of change and Eliud Kipchoge has done us a great deal of good by depicting how limitless human achievement can be.

Shamelessly transposing that victory to our public healthcare system, I argue that Kenya is not limited.

Look at the salubrious climate that we enjoy. Gaze upon the rising sun atop Mt Kenya. Watch the sun set beyond the imposing hills of Taita and Ngong. Marvel at the infrastructure we keep dropping day in and out.

Stand in awe at the resilience of the Kenyan spirit. See Eliud shattering his limits to smithereens. Watch as a nation unites in the name of one man.


What should stop us? What can, in the quest for an efficient public healthcare system?


It should worry the insurance-tottering middle class that, until now, public hospitals suffer shortages of basic supplies.

It should concern the First Lady that maternity departments do not have adequate suction machines, or even bulb suckers, to aid in helping babies to breathe.

It should concern the President that our nurses are leaving the system because their hearts are tired of shortchanging the people they serve. Why learn so much in nursing school only to never practice it?

Arguably, those foreign countries where our nurses flee to do not house the greatest hospital systems. However, they have some semblance of normality and control.

That is what we, desperately, like a baby in need of its mother’s breast, crave. Give nurses and doctors and all other medics an enabling environment. Surely, that must be part of the mandate of the Ministry of Health.


Like a carousel, we keep rotating droves upon droves of nurses whom we either fail to employ or hire and disappoint, given the pathetic working conditions.

I am yet to understand how a private hospital can afford a Positron emission tomography (PET) scanner yet Kenyatta National Hospital does not have it. How committed are we to the fight against cancer?

How I wish I were wrong in saying that the leadership of yesterday, today and, most likely, tomorrow has traded the health of the common mwananchi into the unforgiving hands of private healthcare cartels!

Kenyans get stuck in private hospitals because of amassing huge bills which could have been avoided had the services they sought been readily available in public hospitals.

Then we invite the same leaders who have failed us to grace the funds drive. As if that wasn’t enough bruise to our fragile dignity, we worship the ground they walk on when they contribute Sh50,000 towards the project. This is betrayal on steroids!


We need a free, publicly funded healthcare system without the option of private. It pains me to great lengths as a nurse when I go to a private hospital for extra shifts only to find them with exquisite supplies, which we barely afford in the county-run hospitals.

How do we explain the discrepancy, yet both categories of hospitals enjoy the funding of NHIF?

I am a believer in the immense power public healthcare in Kenya holds. But even the President’s universal health coverage (UHC) agenda will end up a pipe dream if we keep empowering private hospitals at the expense of the public ones.

It is gut-wrenching how improved healthcare has been a campaign promise every five years. My desire is to see patients and clients getting the befitting services at the earliest point of contact.

What I witness on a daily basis is akin to eating out my very heart (only with lots of pepper and a dash of lemon juice to dress).

If Eliud has, indeed, gone beyond his limits, what is stopping us?


In his earnest pursuit of a legacy, what if President Uhuru Kenyatta left us only one thing: an effective public healthcare system? Then the government can tax us all it wants.

Tax us when we are free of cancer. Tax us when we are assured that we do not need to go to India for cancer and kidney disease treatment.

Tax me when I am certain my patients will get all the essential drugs at the hospital and won’t need to pay for blood tests because NHIF will cover them all. Tax a healthy people, not a debilitating electorate.

What if Eliud won at Monza then sat back and ate cat food? Would we be witnessing history today? Why, then, limit ourselves?

Let our politicians know that the average Kenyan voter does not go to private hospitals but the same public health facilities they work so hard to run down.

A healthy people equals a healthy voting bloc; a win-win situation, if you ask me.

Ms Maina is a nephrology nurse. [email protected] @catemimi1772