By Andrew Myendo
On December 12th 2012, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a resolution urging countries to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage (UHC) as an essential priority for international development. This would ensure that everyone, everywhere would have access to quality, affordable health care.
The United Nations proclaimed 12th December as International Universal Health Coverage Day in 2017. It aims to raise awareness for the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverage with multi-stakeholder partners. Each year, UHC advocates raise their voices to share the stories of millions of people still waiting for health, champion what they have achieved so far, call on leaders to make bigger and smarter investments in health and encourage diverse groups to make commitments to help move the world closer to UHC BY 2030.
Here in Kenya, the government launched the pilot phase of Universal Health Coverage in December 2018 in Isiolo, Machakos, Nyeri and Kisumu counties. The government pooled resources, put up the necessary measures and rolled out UHC pilot as a program through the Ministry of Health in the selected counties in earnest anticipation to roll out UHC to the rest of the nation by December 2020. This has not been realised.
People Health Movement Kenya is an independent civil society network of health professionals, human rights defenders, health activists, legal advisors, nurses, doctors and public health professionals. This year, they met at Safari Park Hotel to deliberate the successes and failures of the UHC. The theme of the meeting was HEALTH FOR ALL NOW!!! Especially during this time of COVID-19. The national theme was LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND: RE-IMAGINING UHC AS PHC (PRIMARY HEALTH CARE). Community health workers from informal settlements of Nairobi were invited to share their experiences. One thing that came out clearly is that the government has totally refused to recognise them yet they are the first caregiver that people in informal settlements look to when they fall sick.
Another area of concern was the need for protective gear, especially given the risk of COVID-19 patients. Additionally, they only recieve a small stipend of 500 shillings, irrespective of all the work they have done. When it comes to assisting the sick to get to the hospital, most of them go an extra mile to pay for the transport if the patient or their family cannot afford it.
The counties that benefited from the UHC pilot programme have been faced with the challenge of less doctors in their hospitals. Kakamega county for example had to come up with a bill which recognises and pays the community health workers.
Unfortunately, there was no government representation at the meeting and the participants were concerned about whether their grievances would get to the relevant authority for action to be taken. As we wait for the government to roll out the programme to the rest of the country, urgent intervention is needed so as to meet the required standard set by the World Health Organisation and educate the communities that are found in those counties.