Radical health policy shift in key post COVID-19 care in Kenya

In Summary

•The slow pace with which the counties have been moving to meet some of the requirements by President Uhuru Kenyatta as pre-conditions have not been met.

•  For instance, of the 30,500 isolation beds that the national government had hoped to achieve by the end of June, only 10,000 had been achieved at the end of the period. But beds alone are not enough.

President Uhuru Kenyatta during his national address on coronavirus at State House on Monday, April 7, 2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta during his national address on coronavirus at State House on Monday, April 7, 2020
Image: PSCU

The Covid-19 has exposed gaps in health services that require urgent attention in the country. Although the government has attempted to address deficiencies to meet the demands of the pandemic and ongoing healthcare needs of the populations, there must be a radical shift in policy and financing now and in the future.

The daily infection rates continue to surge even as the government moves to ease restrictions. The exodus of people from some of the hotspots mainly cities to the countryside means some of the under-equipped and understaffed healthcare facilities in the rural areas will be overwhelmed. Unfortunately, most of these facilities did not undertake emergency preparations or trained their staff to handle some of the cases.

The slow pace with which the counties have been moving to meet some of the requirements by President Uhuru Kenyatta as pre-conditions have not been met. For instance, of the 30,500 isolation beds that the national government had hoped to achieve by the end of June, only 10,000 had been achieved at the end of the period. But beds alone are not enough.

In April and May 2020, Human Rights Watch interviewed African health experts, including pathologists, epidemiologists, and public health officials. They said that inadequacies in resources are due to insufficient government investment in health, which in turn affects the ability of health workers to fulfil their duties, especially during the pandemic. The conclusion mirrors the Kenyan situation..

A chronic lack of investment in healthcare infrastructure and equipment has made it harder for us to retain skilled healthcare workers, provide essential medicines, and reduce the mortality rates of perennial diseases like malaria.

The pandemic has brought to bear the urgency of a strong and concerted effort to cultivate training, research and capacity in public health to develop and maintain a prepared cadre of public health experts and professionals. It makes plain as well the need to emphasize public health approaches and knowledge in other professions, bolstering multi-professional teams and cross-discipline collaboration.

COVID-19 is not the first challenge faced by public health and it will not be the last. We must embrace a collaborative and consensus-building action on the continuing development and professionalization of the public health workforce in the country.

The COVID-19 crisis has made the critical role of front-line health professionals obvious to and appreciated by all. However, reopening our societies and returning to some degree of normality while remaining vigilant for potential new waves of outbreaks will require the united efforts of the entirety of the multi-professional workforce.

There is an urgent need for inclusive health policy – one that can detect and interpret warning signs and rapidly mobilize to isolate threats, absorb and adapt to shocks, and organically innovate new strategies to maintain its core functions, the delegates said.

There must be a radical shift in health policy from one that focuses on medical outcomes, to one that focuses on the broader concept of inclusive health – ensuring quality health from conception to end of life, to all people and all the time.

Investing in a strong and resilient health care sector that focuses on people’s needs is an investment in the hopes and dreams of the citizen and will ensure that we have a healthy and productive generation. It’s an investment in improved livelihoods, human security, productivity gains and prosperity for all of us.

Dr Steve Adudans is the executive director, Center for Public Health and Development