Every dark cloud, sages say, has a silver lining. It has been some six long months of anxiety, mass hospitalisation and hundreds of deaths since the first case of the infamous Coronavirus was reported in the country.
After months of battling the Coronavirus, the government’s holistic approach to the pandemic is paying off. As the curve is flattening, meaning that Kenya is registering fewer new cases of infection on a day-to-day basis, we have a unique window of opportunity to bolster our healthcare system for years to come.
The Coronavirus pandemic should not divert President Uhuru Kenyatta’s attention away from his plans of extending universal health coverage to our entire country. If anything, the current health emergency further strengthened public desire for its implementation.
After successfully containing the hotspots of Nairobi and Mombasa, however, the battle against the Coronavirus is moving to the countryside. The healthcare provision capacity in these areas is exactly what Uhuru has been hoping to bolster since he first announced the roll-out of universal health coverage in 2018.
In his recent videoconference with leading government officials and health experts, Uhuru reiterated that instead of symptomatic reactions, his government is prioritising structural policies that are both long-term and transformative.
Focussing on health provision in rural areas is the most appropriate next step for the government, one that the arrival of the pandemic might have momentarily delayed, but which has featured high on its agenda.
As our capital and other large cities are now equipped with isolation units, extra hospital beds and analytical labs, similar infrastructure must be built in the countryside too so as to avoid the proliferation of new cases there and the eventual re-introduction of the virus to areas that have already recovered.
As part of the President’s Big Four agenda, the government promised to be improving the quality of our citizens’ health and safety on multiple fronts. Besides increasing our Counties’ capacity to react to a public health situation by means of infrastructure development, prevention has been at the centre of Uhuru’s policy.
The goal of achieving affordable healthcare countrywide is inextricably linked to the availability of quality housing. Current policy plans of extending universal healthcare to the whole of the country could not come at a better time. Making sure that people have access to check-ups and basic treatment is crucial after the pandemic has eroded the financial safety nets of so many families in our country.
Paying for healthcare is still expensive for many of us and a longer period of treatment often eats into our family savings. A government-sponsored and sustained universal system of healthcare would ensure the standardised availability of medicine and basic services at a fixed price.
In fact, the government already conducted a successful trial version of such a system in late 2019 during which approximately 3.2 million residents of Kisumu, Machakos, Isiolo and Nyeri had access to subsidised services in public health facilities.
With great foresight, the President started discussions with the devolved County administrations in early June to make sure that a primary line of defence against the Coronavirus was available everywhere. As a result, each County was required to set up at least 300 beds to deal with what could be an eventual outbreak in rural areas.
Conscious of the multifaceted nature of building a comprehensive healthcare system, Uhuru has been closely monitoring developments in the countryside. With a moment to breathe, he should not plan to stop and rest.