There’re enough reasons to prioritise child healthcare

paediatric theatres

More funding for paediatric healthcare is required if we are to build a nation of healthy children.

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Kenya’s population is expected to reach 84.7 million by 2050 and 112 million by 2100, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Desa).

Those under 18 account for nearly 24.5 million of the country’s 53 million total population, as per Unicef estimates.

As a result, children account for a sizeable portion of the population, which is expected to grow with a greater emphasis on the younger end of the pyramid.

The incidence of communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among children is increasing. So are many common infectious diseases, such as pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea, despite being easily preventable, as well as prevalence of NCDs such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Sadly, Kenya’s paediatric healthcare systems have historically fallen short, causing unnecessary pain and loss of lives. With hospitals that specialise in paediatric medicine few and mostly located in cities, rural populations are left to fend for themselves.

The problem is exacerbated by a scarcity of paediatric sub-specialists—from nurses to surgeons and paediatricians and psychologists—due to lack of training opportunities.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) puts the ratio of doctors to the general population at 1:17,000, a far cry from the WHO-recommended 1:1,000. It’s worse for subspecialties for children.

Given the limited pipeline for the development of medical talent, only a small number of doctors enter he workforce every year with even fewer facilities for them to practise in. The cost and opportunity constraints are much worse for paediatricians.

But there is hope, what with an increased awareness of the importance of paediatric healthcare and a greater emphasis on training and skill development for medical professionals and community health workers.

For example, Gertrude’s Institute of Child Health and Research recently released more than 100 paediatric care specialists to supplement the nation’s pool of child health practitioners.

Institutions are developing strategies to reach even the most marginalised of communities with critical healthcare services. For example, the M-PESA Foundation-funded Daktari Smart programme uses telemedicine technology to extend the reach of doctors, giving more children specialised healthcare.

But there is still a lot of room for many more players within and outside of the healthcare ecosystem to contribute to improving children’s access to health services. They can build on the positive momentum by providing charitable support, strategic partnerships and even information sharing.

Even more funding for paediatric healthcare is required if we are to build a nation of healthy children. Individuals, families, communities and the country benefit greatly from investment in healthcare. The sector is in desperate need of additional government funding and charitable contributions.

The International Children’s Day, on November 20, reminded us that good health is a critical enabler of everything else. Educational outcomes, psychosocial development and participation in family activities are all dependent on a child having access to both preventative and curative healthcare services.

- Dr Ibrahim is a paediatrician at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital. [email protected].