Bomet to wean itself off hired Red Cross ambulances

Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso flags off two ambulances bought by the county government for Sh23 million as part of a bigger plan to phase off leased ambulances and improve access to medical care. PHOTO | VITALIS KIMUTAI

One Sunday morning last December, Elizabeth Barusei, who was four months pregnant, woke up with a splitting headache.

She thought that emptying her bladder would help, but it didn’t. As she walked back to the bedroom from the toilet, she leaned on the door frame as the world became hazy, and her knees gave in, causing her to come down with a thud that jolted her husband who was in deep slumber.

He had no idea what had befallen his wife who was lying in a heap on the cold cement floor.

He yanked his phone from the charger in the power socket by his bedside and called a neighbour, who helped him move her to a mattress on the living room floor.

As they tried to resuscitate her, Paul, his neighbour, dialled Kenya Red Cross Society’s emergency number, then called a doctor friend to explain their predicament.

In less than 15 minutes, an ambulance with two paramedics and a driver – also a paramedic – pulled into the homestead in Wasega Village, Bomet County, administered first aid, then went blaring a siren on the way to Longisa County Referral Hospital, where the expectant mother was handed over to doctors and nurses for emergency care.


Mrs Arusei was diagnosed with low blood count. Doctors stabilised her and gave her a blood transfusion, before discharging her after two days.

The medics said that were it not for emergency services – quick response from an ambulance team – Mrs Barusei, would not have made it to hospital alive.

Five years ago, the story might have been different, because then Bomet did not have an ambulance service.

Then the county signed up for leased ambulances from the Kenya Red Cross.

Apart from getting emergency cases to hospitals within the county, the leased ambulances also serve residents of Nakuru, Narok, and Kericho, who seek medical services at the Longisa County Referral Hospital. The ambulances also transfer referral cases to hospitals outside the county.

The county records at least 300 referrals, destined to various health facilities every month, with 13,014 referrals facilitated through the ambulance services between 2014 and December 2017.

In 2018, 1,824 referrals were recorded, with six leased ambulances transferring patients to other facilities for specialised treatment.

The county has spent Sh168 million to finance the leased ambulance services from the Red Cross in the last four years.

To cut the cost of leasing ambulances (Sh42 million per year for six ambulances) the county bought two ambulances at a cost of Sh23 million, as part of a plan to phase out leased ambulances in three years.

As a result, the monthly cost of hiring ambulances has gone down from Sh4.5 million to Sh3.8 million, leading to direct savings of Sh700,000 a month.

“Prevention of deaths during emergencies is largely dependent on the quality of emergency response arising from reporting systems and procedures by medical staff in the various health facilities in the country,” said County Executive for Health and Medical Services Joseph Sitonik, during the recent launch of the county-owned ambulances.

“The Bomet County Referral and Ambulance Policy 2018, has guided the building of an effective referral system that will go a long way in ensuring that residents have access to universal medical care in rural areas, and that patients in rural facilities referred for specialist treatment in and out of the county get ambulance service on time,” added Governor Joyce Laboso.

 Moving from leased to own ambulance services was informed by the need to save on costs, because leased ambulances carry limitations on mileage which becomes costly when exceeded.

This coupled with overheads and other damages covered in the contracts, made them more expensive than procuring county ambulances.

The county has trained its own paramedics, who will ensure continuity once the outsourced service is discontinued.