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September 24, 2018

Kitui prepares to roll out free healthcare programme

Kitui governor Charity Ngilu has her blood pressure checked using newly acquired equipment. /MUSEMBI NZENGU
Kitui governor Charity Ngilu has her blood pressure checked using newly acquired equipment. /MUSEMBI NZENGU

Imagine walking into a health facility, getting diagnosed and receiving all the drugs the doctor prescribed from the hospital’s pharmacy, after parting with Sh3 a day.

Soon, residents of Kitui county will be able to access free treatment in county public health facilities under an ambitious insurance cover plan to be unveiled tomorrow.

Every household will be required to part with Sh1,000 per year to cover all family members under the age of 18. The aim is to provide quality and affordable healthcare to cushion residents against out-of-pocket expenses.

After her landslide victory in last year’s election, in which she floored former county boss Julius Malombe, Governor Charity Ngilu is on a mission.

Ngilu, 66, was Minister for Health for five years, from 2003 to 2008.

An experienced politician with the ability to blend politics with servant leadership, Ngilu is one of the few governors gearing up to launch universal healthcare programmes in their counties.

The plan will enable a large percentage of the county’s 1.3 million population to access quality and affordable healthcare—a serious challenge that continues to bedevil poor rural populations.

The Kitui-County Health Insurance Cover is already anchored in the Kitui County Health Insurance Cover Regulations, 2018.

The service will be offered through the Universal Health Care Fund managed by the county.

Under this model, the county government will guarantee and provide a set of essential curative, promotive and rehabilitative health services at all levels of care in public health facilities free of charge at the point of care to all registered members. 

According to the County Health Accounts (CHA) report, in 2015-16 some 34.2 per cent of Kitui households paid for health services out of their own pockets.

Insurance coverage is low, at less than 15 per cent, while 63 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.  

Respiratory diseases are the most prevalent, at 25 per cent, followed by skin diseases at 12 per cent, road traffic injuries at nine per cent and confirmed malaria cases at five per cent.

It is expected that about 120,000 households ( 50 per cent of the population) will subscribe annually to the insurance cover. This translates to Sh120 million per annum.

14 SUBCOUNTY HOSPITALS

The K-CHIC is modelled after the National Hospital Insurance Fund and it will be one of a kind.

Universal affordable healthcare is one of the pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four plan. Ngilu’s plan will therefore not only go a long way in supporting the pillar, but also put the poverty ravaged county ahead of the pack.

The K-CHIC will be launched at Katulani trading centre in Kitui Central subcounty. For a county where more than three-quarters of the population struggle to get even a single meal a day, the rollout has raised expectations.

Residents will be required to register biometrically and include names of beneficiaries, with annual subscription capped at Sh1,000 per a household.

Health and Sanitation chief officer Richard Muthoka is in charge of the programme. He expressed optimism that the programme will not disappoint.

 Muthoka, who is also the acting Health executive, said residents will be free to walk into any of the 14 subcounty hospitals  across Kitui county and get free treatment. Those who would not have enrolled for the K-CHIC will access free medical care in local health centres without paying a penny.

“We have about 280,000 households and in the first phase of the K-CHIC programme we  target to loop in at least 200,000 households,” Muthoka said.

Speaking last Wednesday, Dr Muthoka said as soon as the K-CHIC project is launched the county government will embark on a vigorous campaign to enlist residents.

He said the aim of K-CHIC is not to compete with NHIF but to complement it. “You know, only 15 per cent of the people of Kitui have insurance cover of any kind. That means that 85 per cent do not enjoy any health insurance cover. These are the people we [aim] to assist because they die of ailments that can be treated,” Muthoka said.

HOTLINE

Last Wednesday Ngilu led county government workers in registering for the K-CHIC at the county referral hospital.

After registering, the governor proudly displayed her card and said she was on the path to achieving her vision to provide quality healthcare to Kitui residents.

During her swearing-in on August 21 last year, Ngilu said women would no longer die while giving birth and patients being detained in hospital would be a thing of the past.

Ngilu said a community of sick or unhealthy people would not progress or engage in meaningful development.

“I want to have a population that is healthy so it can fully engage in developing our county,” she said after registering for K-CHIC.

To ensure the successful rollout of K-CHIC, alongside other health programmes, about 30 per cent of the county’s 2018-19 budget (Sh3 billion), was allocated to the health department.

Ngilu said it will be tricky to treat illnesses such as cancer at the local health facilities.

However residents will be able to access laboratory and radiology services, consultation for in and outpatient services, theatre services, and drugs.

“We have adequate number of health staff in our facilities. We have acquired modern medical diagnostic kits and our facilities are stocked with sufficient quantities of drugs,” Ngilu said.

On July 12 she unveiled 327 new medical staff alongside three Cuban doctors at the county referral hospital and said she will not compromise the health of residents.

“During election campaigns, I promised that once I was elected I will ensure that the people of Kitui will be attended at hospitals by using cards and without paying any money to get the service. The K-CHIC is to cater for the entire household—parents and their children,” Ngilu said.

She said service providers in health facilities will be able get patients’ information as captured in the data bank.

Ngilu said each of the 40 wards will have an ambulance for referral cases. She said a 24-hour hotline has been set up at the county headquarters so residents can report facilities that do not offer proper services and action taken against errant officers.

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