Fully insuring frontline healthcare workers to hugely aid Covid-19 war

Nurses

Nurses from Mombasa County light up candles during the burial of their colleague Margaret Ngeti, a nurse at Portrietz Hospital in Mombasa, who succumbed to Covid-19 in this photo taken on November 12, 2020. 

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The global health crisis resulting from the pandemic has been unprecedented in scale and extent.
  • By last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 234.5 million Covid-19 cases with 4.8 million deaths.

Nearly a year and a half later and with widespread realisation that Covid-19 might become a permanent feature of life, the insurance industry has moved to develop products specific to health workers — like doctors, nurses, clinical officers, dentists, pharmacists, laboratory technologists, technicians and allied professionals who provide care directly to patients.

In retrospect, the warning by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to Kenyans, albeit with a light touch, following the reporting of the first Covid-19 case, not to treat the disease “normally”, was timely. Roughly 20 months later, Covid-19 has evidently treated the entire world “abnormally”. The global health crisis resulting from the pandemic has been unprecedented in scale and extent.

By last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 234.5 million Covid-19 cases with 4.8 million deaths. Further, economists estimate that the Covid-19 global recession is one of the deepest ever — only comparable to the period at the end of First World War, which resulted in a more than 90 per cent contraction in per capita GDP of the global economy.

Many countries, including Kenya, have imposed strict containment measures — including travel bans, border closures, mandatory quarantine requirements, aggressive national vaccine rollouts, widespread testing and contact tracing — aimed at flattening the epidemiological curve to stem the transmission of the virus within its borders. 

The measures were critical to ensure the health system was not overwhelmed and that there was capacity to meet the healthcare needs of Covid-19 patients who needed hospitalisation while still dealing with other healthcare provision services. While most Kenyans were instructed to remain at home, healthcare workers, who are categorised as frontline workers, had to report to work amid heightened risk of infection.

Fight against virus

Globally, it has been unanimously agreed that an effective Covid-19 response requires that health workers be assured of high-quality care due to their occupational hazards like pathogen exposure with increased social risk, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, physical and psychological violence.

Given their key role in the fight against the virus, employers and managers in health facilities should, among other responsibilities, honour health workers’ rights to “compensation, rehabilitation and curative services if infected with Covid-19 following exposure in the workplace”. Leaving the entire burden of care, especially for public sector health workers, to the government may be unrealistic.

Through submissions it made to the Senate Health Committee recently, the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), highlighted the difficulties it has encountered in covering Covid-19-related medical expenses. Projecting cumulative national hospital admissions attributed to severe Covid-19 disease at 17,458, of which 1,293 would need critical care, at a minimum cost of Sh1.09 billion, or a quarter of the Sh4.2 billion likely to be spent on managing the admitted Covid-19 cases in the country, the burden of cover is daunting. Per-day unit costs for case management for severe Covid-19 cases is estimated at Sh13,137.07 and Sh63,243.11 for critical ones.

Insurance providers have come up with an insurance solution approved by the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA). It will assist the government in unburdening NHIF from Covid-19 care management of frontline health workers. Full comprehensive medical cover that caters for out-patient, in-patient, dental, optical, maternity, funeral and personal accident expenses, including all Covid-19-related treatment expenses, will be available to all frontline healthcare workers.

The uptake of this industry solution by the national and county governments, faith-based health organisations and private health facilities will protect, encourage and motivate healthcare workers to continue giving their invaluable services.

Mr Muthui ([email protected]) is Minet Kenya CEO. Mr Kimathi ([email protected]) is Minet Kenya Business Intelligence and Analytics Manager.

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