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FORESIGHT

Corona lesson one: Invest in health

Our health is as safe as that of the worst insured, worst cared-for member of society.

In Summary
  • This pandemic has taught us great lessons, if we care to listen and learn.
  • Understanding that there will be many future catastrophes should instil a sense of urgency in our government to act even post Covid-19.
Kisumu county health workers strike along Oginga Odinga Street in Kisumu.
Kisumu county health workers strike along Oginga Odinga Street in Kisumu.
Image: FAITH MATETE

Before Covid-19 reached our borders, there were calls to put in place infrastructure that would support early detection and response. But, there were more pressing issues at the time and divisive politics was at play.

Now we are contending with a virus that has spread across the world, creating widespread socioeconomic chaos, and scientists are yet to fully understand it. We have been caught flat-footed.

Thus the cliché, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Investing in preparedness is excellent value for money. Investment in health is equivalent to investing in the economy. This is corroborated by a Lancet Commission report of 2013, which estimated that the economic returns to investing in health will be at least 10 times the cost of public spending.

In as much as this pandemic has united us in our vulnerabilities, in that it does not discriminate in terms of race/ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic factors, geographical factors and what not, it has also revealed deep inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Minority groups, including women, are most affected. Women are the first line of defence against ailments because of their caregiving roles. Others are children, especially those from low economic backgrounds who depended on the school system for meals; people living with disability as rarely do health promotion and prevention activities target them; then we have the poor—those living in informal settlements where handwashing and social isolation is a mirage. They have no access to water and sanitation facilities but we expect them to keep safe in these precarious times.

Then there are those who face health disparities because of their geographical locations. With the cessation of movement order against some counties, I wonder how Kenyans living at the periphery are faring, do they have access to healthcare services?

As shown by the pandemic, many people have no access to quality healthcare. The SARS-CoV-2, also known as Covid-19, has made it crystal clear that our health is as safe as that of the worst insured, worst cared-for member of society. We are only as strong as our weakest link.

This pandemic has taught us great lessons, if we care to listen and learn. The course of action to avert future disasters is to invest in health, which at its core means investing in and promoting universal health coverage.

UHC, according to the World Health Organisation, will ensure that all people have access to health services – including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliation – of sufficient quality to be effective while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.

UHC offers an effective risk reduction intervention by reducing both the probability of healthcare-related losses and the severity of their impacts on household’s budgets when they do occur. Availability of universal healthcare services in all countries is the crucial first line of defence for all against such threats to health.

Understanding that there will be many future catastrophes should instil a sense of urgency in our government to act even post Covid-19. Investments in domestic financing, health workforce, health information systems, and leadership and governance should be our prerogative.

Or we can wait like sitting ducks for the next pandemic to strike.