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Universal healthcare a worthy goal

Thursday February 8 2018


National Hospital Insurance Fund chief executive officer Geoffrey Mwangi talks about changes to healthcare, during a media briefing at Crown Plaza Hotel, Nairobi, on November 2, 2017. Kenya needs to get its priorities right to strike the right balance in healthcare management. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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In a world where one out of every two people is faced with the tough choice between buying food or medicine, Kenya needs to prioritise the achievement of universal health coverage early enough.

Whereas both food and medicine are essential for human survival, the attainment of universal healthcare will save thousands of Kenyans from having to make this tough decision.

Universal health coverage is entirely a political choice for all countries.


Sadly, the lack of essential health services is driving more people into extreme poverty as unexpected illnesses push more families to sell their livestock, empty their life’s savings or borrow from their equally financially troubled neighbours.

A global call for countries to achieve universal health coverage, where everyone has access to affordable healthcare, requires a fundamental shift in the delivery of health services.


Kenya signed the global pact to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, which will allow everyone to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, and without facing any financial hardships.


However, new inventions, effective public health campaigns and novel treatments mean nothing if there are no robust healthcare systems to deliver them. 

Kenya needs to move more swiftly by strengthening health systems at the national and county levels.

Leading the pack in Africa are Rwanda and Ghana, through innovative and realistic health financing packages setting them on the path towards early attainment of universal health care.

Kenya needs to get its priorities right to strike the right balance in healthcare management.


Sadly, there isn’t a one-size model that fits all.

Kenya needs to come up with an imperative road map.

County governments need to have an epitome rollout that suits their demographics.

Makueni County is setting the pace to make universal health coverage a reality, a journey that began in October last year, targeting to enrol all the 180,000 households at an initial cost of Sh500 per year for every household.

The Makueni model is built on the fact that 74 per cent of the population is under 35, which is 988,586, making it a relatively young population.

Those aged above 65 are on a free-healthcare initiative.

The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) is well-positioned as the public organisation to provide accessible, affordable and sustainable quality health insurance for all Kenyans.

However, the fund’s performance has been dismal and achieving the vision to deliver UHC is doubtful, if it remains business as usual at the NHIF.

Universal healthcare does not mean free healthcare, but a tax-funded healthcare system is possible by astutely reforming the NHIF.

A national campaign to reach 13 million principal members from the current six million is an optimistic move for this premier position for the largest single health insurer in the country.

The NHIF also needs to be more proactive and transparent in communicating its products and services to all.

This will build more public confidence in the institution’s capacity to take care of the members’ health needs.


And as the hordes of optimistic Kenyans wait for these reforms to finally take root, the county governments need move quickly to put in place essential structures that will anchor and enable the attainment of universal health coverage.

Their package should offer a continuum of health services, ranging from prevention, promotion of health, treatment, rehabilitation, to the management of diseases up to the palliative care component of healthcare.

The general public needs to be assertively involved in demanding universal health coverage to protect the people from the pinching costs from the out-of-pocket health expenditure.

A rights-driven campaign will cushion millions of families from the unforgiving and intolerant healthcare costs that drive thousands of Kenyans into poverty.

To be able to make these great strides, the perfect cocktail should be brewed on good governance, efficient health informational systems, motivated health workers and a public that is well-versed in their health rights.

We need to begin the journey today by building a strong, efficient and well-run health system.

Ms Muraya is a journalist and a health communication expert. [email protected] Twitter: @joywanjaz