Kenya’s universal health coverage (UHC) quest has been at the forefront of the national agenda for several years. With renewed enthusiasm following the launch of the Big 4 agenda by Uhuru’s government that places healthcare as a pathway to achieving greater national prosperity. But what do we mean by universal health care?
According to the World Health Organization, universal health coverage is ‘’ensuring that all people have access to needed 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-patient to financial hardship.’’
If you think about it closely Kenyans are one medical emergency away from poverty. Many households are forced to use a range of sources including income, savings or borrowing to offset medical bills. In most cases, family members take loans or sell off assets to meet out of pocket spending on health, in effect causing health shocks.
On a larger aggregated scale, the adverse economic outcomes of health shocks of households directly impede progress on national development goals such as economic growth and alleviation of poverty.
It is against this grim backdrop, that as a country we cannot afford to fail in instituting, implementing and safeguarding universal health coverage. But what does it take?
First, is to strengthen our primary health care systems and emphasizing mind shifts, community empowerment and social accountability. With Kenya experiencing a fairly accelerated growth pace, it is easy to see the mushrooming urban cities and towns as a wonder of our imagination representing our progress since independence. But such growth, comes with its own side effects, affecting our physical health. Urbanization has in effect created more centralized towns with people living in spaces within close proximity, affecting our diet, physical exercise patterns, access to direct sunlight and constrained playing grounds for our children. These factors put together tend to cause lifestyle diseases. Our urban planning needs to take into account sustainable developments, more green spaces and consuming healthier foods to mitigate lifestyle diseases.
Secondly, the success of Kenya’s universal healthcare will ultimately depend on our use of information and communication technology as key to attaining and sustaining UHC as well as strengthening health-system accountability. ICT will help ensure that resources mobilized in the health sector are used more efficiently, effectively and with integrity, leading to reduced waste of resources, optimized coverage, and overall reduced cost.
Technology and data can also help policymakers to more efficiently and accurately allocate resources.
As far as ICT is concerned, we do not need to reinvent the wheel and build systems from scratch, but rather benchmark on solutions that exist in other jurisdictions including the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and Denmark. Automation of health service processes with a view of realizing universal health coverage can only deliver results through innovative partnerships that bring together organizations to serve a common purpose like government, private sector and tech giants.
Lastly, for Kenya to move closer to the goal of universal health coverage governance and leadership is critical. A system is as good as the people implementing it and you cannot automate integrity. The drivers of universal health coverage must track financing, monitor costs and revenues to increase accountability and openness.