- The corruption cartels tend to take over precisely those projects which seem indispensable to national health policy.
- They then bring into these projects flawed procurement, inflated costs and under-supply of what is required, and thus ensure a very different outcome from what was intended.
It was bound to happen sooner or later— this distinct cleavage between what the Cabinet Secretary for Health so eloquently explains to us on TV, about what the government is doing to secure victory in the fight against the coronavirus; and the actual “lived experience” of Kenyans.
As of this point, the most glaring revelation is the chasm between what we have been told are the comprehensive arrangements to quarantine all those Kenyans who have flown back into the country and the torment that such Kenyans have had to endure at the hands of the authorities once they got off their planes.
This should send a clear message to all Kenyans who have thus far been convinced that the authorities had a grip on this crisis. That message is: Your turn will come; you too will one day suffer agonies due to the ad hoc and incoherent implementation of what had appeared to be a well-thought-out public health policy.
However, the CS cannot be blamed for all this mess. He has only recently taken over this docket, and no doubt he is doing his best.
The problem really is the systemic corruption within the Ministry of Health, whose head office in Nairobi, as far back as the Daniel Moi presidency, was referred to not by its official name, Afya House, but rather as “Mafia House”.
It is the operational base of some of the most deeply entrenched corruption cartels in Kenya, and this basic reality has not changed just because we now face an unprecedented global pandemic.
What such corruption cartels specialise in has a parallel in what the coronavirus does to the human body: the hijacking of something good and useful, and turning it against the intended beneficiaries.
The virus will kill you by attacking your lungs: it prevents the proper functioning of your lungs and eventually “drowns you using your own body fluids” as fluid collects in your lungs and forms a layer which makes it impossible to breathe.
Health ministry is the operational base of some of the most deeply entrenched corruption cartels in Kenya, and this basic reality has not changed just because we now face an unprecedented global pandemic.
Likewise, the corruption cartels tend to take over precisely those projects which seem indispensable to national health policy. They then bring into these projects flawed procurement, inflated costs and under-supply of what is required, and thus ensure a very different outcome from what was intended.
Thus, for example, you find that there are about 100 shipping containers, rusting away somewhere at the Coast, which had been supplied to the Health ministry as “mobile clinics” to be distributed to the counties.
In those same counties you find modern sophisticated hospital equipment – procured controversially at enormous cost – which have never once been used since they were delivered years ago, as there was no corresponding training of staff who could operate these machines.
According to Unicef, every year, “74,000 children in Kenya die before reaching the age of five years…Most childhood deaths in Kenya are largely preventable and occur before the first birthday.”
This then is the kind of track record which the Ministry of Health, our primary implementing agency in the war against the coronavirus, brings to the table.
An article in ‘The Elephant’ website about a year ago revealed the kind of distortion that such corruption and policy failures have led to. This article titled ‘Where do Kenyans go for medical treatment?” quoted a World Bank-sponsored study carried out in 2011 which concluded that “…over 70% of Kenyans rely on traditional healers as their primary source of health care. This number is high because healers respond to diverse needs – they work as herbalists and birth attendants and they’re within reach of ordinary citizens...”
Well, the bad news for those 70 per cent of Kenyans who had found ways to survive without having to rely on the government’s medical services is that we now face an enemy that is far beyond the powers of any traditional healer. Indeed, thus far the vaccine or cure for Covid-19 has proved elusive to even the most prestigious biomedical research teams working in hi-tech laboratories in the rich nations.
And so, as a number of perceptive observers have already pointed out, Kenyans are about to find out what it really means to have so much corruption and incompetence within our public health infrastructure.