Close

PUBLIC HEALTH

Coronavirus has exposed inability to invest in preventive healthcare

The pandemic has opportunities for a rethink and reconfiguring our health system

In Summary

• At some point after Independence, we lost the network on public health habits and only this virus has awoken us from the dreadful slumber.

•  The fear of Covid-19 must remind us about the need to keep personal and workplace hygiene. Complacency will cost us, dear.

FACELIFT: One of the wards at KNH
FACELIFT: One of the wards at KNH
Image: FILE

I am an avid supporter of continued coronavirus preventive behavioural safeguards continuing post the pandemic.

In the proximity of a peri-urban locality, the folks here are steeped in practices everything that is anti-social distancing. They have, however, grudgingly been forced not to crowd at funerals, congregate for worship or socialise at entertainment joints.

They see the Covid-19 safety guidelines as a game of chance; the seriousness of coronavirus hasn’t sunk in yet.

 
 

Elsewhere, people are getting infected, losing jobs, starving, dying. Yet here, those who should know better are raving mad, thinking the virus is a joke told too many times “by the government”. I’m talking about the market criers – kadogo economists, alcoholic teacher, deceitful preacher missing tithes and boda boda know-alls.

Granted there is a trust issue by folk with Serikali, many are pathological pessimists who escape into “God will save us” mythology. This is why they still handshake, embrace, don’t wash hands and sanitise. It’s why the matatu is still overloaded; boda boda carries a mother, two children, the maid and shopping; eateries buzz with flies; and un-sanitised shoppers touch every item with grim palms.

Handwashing containers dotting shop doorsteps have no water. Here, Covid-19 is a bane of jokes, not grim reality, ni story tu. That’s why the facemask is worn as a totem necktie.

In this circumstance petulance, fair game, lifting lockdowns and passive persuasion will not stop Covid-19. Folk need actionable persuasion – shock therapy that gets them out of their comfort zones of ignoring safety measures to avoid infection.

People are still not observing healthy social etiquette. They still hi-five, whisper, hug and huddle closely. 

This casualness will be the bane in exposing the Covid-19 calamity to many.

At some point after Independence, we lost the network on public health habits and only this virus has awoken us from the dreadful slumber. The fear of Covid-19 must remind us about the need to keep personal and workplace hygiene. Complacency will cost us, dear.

 

HOLLOW HEALTH SYSTEM

The pandemic has exposed our inability to invest in preventive healthcare. Our whole health system is hollow – pandering to elite curative interventions despite evidence that 80 per cent of the people are vulnerable to public health preventable diseases. The medical equipment service scam at the Ministry of Health is just an example of how wrong the diagnosis for what ails our health system has become.

Indeed, it’s possible very little of the universal health coverage is about public health interventions given the imbroglio in the National Health Insurance  Fund. The reason we are not investing on public health is that there is very little takeaway for corruption cartels.

Nonetheless, the whirlwind that is coronavirus has opportunities for a rethink and reconfiguring our health system to give public health a deserved umph in primary healthcare. Past this virus crisis, we must insist on maintaining the current preventive social etiquette – keeping physical distance, handwashing, no handshakes and hugs, and sneezing and coughing into handkerchiefs. Let’s rest our dead early instead of commercialising funerals.

But the anticipated social change in beliefs, attitudes and behaviour will not happen if the government withdraws from enforcement, providing personal protection equipment (PPEs) – handwashing water containers at public places – and investing in food security.

EMPTY FOOD RESERVES

It's shameful that in this time of coronavirus and unavoidable lockdown, Kenya’s food reserves are empty. You cannot lock away people without providing them with food. A volcanic social eruption will occur.

We should achieve food sufficiency in two ways: Subsidize food production so that families have something to eat from their own yields and second, maintain sufficient reserves as supplements in unpredictable times such as now. It’s the bane of Kenya’s toiling farmers that the government that has denied them subsidies, steals the little they produce through government agencies such as the National Cereals and Produce Board. It's no surprise that Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya insists on the importation of four million bags when farmers are begging to sell their stock in the barns.

We all hope to survive Covid-19. When we do, let’s subject ourselves to a thorough reality check. One is about food scarcity death-trap by development partners. Because the government has absconded, households are held hostage by cyclic opportunistic interventions year-in-year-out. They are hostage to recycled failed experiments.

Donors pour in training farmers; demand product value chain group formation; distribute cereals seeds, fertiliser, chicken and heifers inconsiderately. It does not occur to donors that these are the same groups of different names, trained, empowered and failed the last time round. Donors aren’t wiser because their agents — government officers — won’t say can’t say, as long as the gravy train of allowances is on track.

So confused here are groups of women beneficiaries of donor chicks asking of me, in the best-case scenario, for feeds to feed their dying chicks, and in the worst case to buy the chicks out of their dying misery.

When they were handed the week-old chicks and a week’s feeds, nobody verified their capacity to afford feeds and vaccinations. What was important to the local donor agent was disposable chicks, mesmerised mothers, a highly publicised handover ceremony and the handsome tick on the dotted line. I could speak the same for those who got a heifer.

This, good people, is happening in a country whose economy is wholly dependent on agriculture. Reminds me of the Fisheries Stimulus Project — the government dug the ponds, supplied us with fingerlings and then vanished. We didn’t know what to do with the ponds thereafter. We let weeds consume them. Yet, it wasn’t in the time of coronavirus.

Before we say lift the lockdowns, let’s first confirm the habitual transformation. Stay safe, won’t you!  

Kabatesi is an adviser,  Vihiga county government