Our healthcare sector is ‘in ICU’

Members of the public queue to enter Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Eastlands, Nairobi, on May 4,2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Medics have turned to cradle snatching to benefit from the sale of children as their salaries and welfare continues to be ignored.
  • Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said in a recent TV interview that public hospitals are better only that the middle class have no confidence in them.

Another scandal at yet another hospital involving sale of children and we are surprised.

This is a problem that should have been nipped in the bud at Pumwani Hospital after the incident involving Pastor Gilbert Deya. With the case involving Pastor Deya dragging on, baby snatchers can only feel emboldened.

Another public hospital has now joined the list of facilities trafficking children under their care as our society becomes disjointed. It comes as no surprise that medical officials are involved. Lord knows how many baby snatching gangs are prowling hospital corridors looking for child trafficking deals.

Forming a committee to probe an issue that has grown tentacles is a waste of time and just another knee-jerk reaction from government officials who have been shirking their duties.

Heads should have rolled and staff jailed from the first incident at Pumwani Hospital. With another scandal breaking out, it seems no serious efforts went into making sure that no child was lost at public hospitals ever again. Instead, children have continued to face a myriad of abuses with teen pregnancies and child sexual violence topping the list.

As organised crime gains traction, it is hard to believe, sometimes, if there is a government in charge. There seems to be a complete and utter systemic breakdown. As politics and corruption take centre stage, criminals move in and fill the void. What we are witnessing is largely a manifestation of underfunding and runaway corruption in key government departments, such as healthcare.

Basic standards

Speeches and conferences have been organised, but they have not translated into tangible standards expected of our healthcare system. We may have bought huge machines and incurred debts along the way, but have done little in establishing basic standards in healthcare that would have curbed unavoidable medical negligence across the country.

Universal healthcare has not been spared our destructive politics. As leaders continued to offer lip service to UHC, the poorest in society are left at the mercy of killer diseases, financial ruin and now criminal gangs.

Medics have turned to cradle snatching to benefit from the sale of children as their salaries and welfare continues to be ignored.

Patients have become commodities for clinical staff to trade in and reap from.  Whether they sell them an ambulance ride, human tissues, blood, chapati (yes, I have seen it in a ward!), or refer them to their private labs, business in or with hospitals is common with medical staff.

We set aside huge budgets for healthcare every year. Donors have also been generous to us and have kept supporting our healthcare. We have lost a lot of that money to corruption.

It has become challenging to fight corruption in the healthcare sector because government officials, staff and ‘cartels’ are involved in graft.

In essence, what would be ideal is to have a healthcare commission with its own inspectorate to see whether patients get value for money.  But those with legal and fiduciary duty are the same people neck deep in corruption.

I bet no health minister makes impromptu visits to hospitals regularly to see the state of the public hospitals. Remote management of hospitals serves the interests of corrupt individuals. Let us not fool ourselves either that sending public and state officials to private hospital is a solution.

It is a move that does not inspire them to care about public healthcare. They are not affected by the nightmare that is the character of public hospitals. It is in fact wrong to make officials who have no interaction with public healthcare in charge of them.

I am still unsure what the latest UHC conference in Mombasa by public officials with privately insured healthcare was meant to achieve.

Child trafficking

If we fail to focus on improving public healthcare, we shall continue to report on child trafficking racket for years to come. We have created a conducive environment for such a crime. Corruption needs to be fought from all fronts to help public hospitals to thrive.

Hospital staff are becoming a risk to patients, and without improving their welfare, we may not be able to stop crime from spreading in the health sector.

To say our health sector is broken is an understatement. It has been in ICU for decades now. It is no wonder that many healthcare facilities have not been able to cope in this pandemic, and frankly, it is unlikely to cope with the next either if corruption keeps on an upward trajectory.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said in a recent TV interview that public hospitals are better only that the middle class have no confidence in them.

He is right in that public hospitals have excellent clinicians that can rise to any medical occasion. He is wrong, however, to castigate the middle classes, who are put off by the filthy state of public hospitals, lack of essential medicine and compassion.

The ministry needs to create an environment in hospitals that is crime- and corruption-proof, of a high standard and with better remuneration for staff.

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