For eight years, Flora Karanja, a Murang’a County resident, has been suffering in silence moving from one hospital to the other in the country in search of a good specialist for her weak joints and a dislocated disc in her back
Most of the clinics would not see her unless she paid Sh5,000 in consultation fees, which she did not have.
“I sold my only cow to get my diabetes, high blood pressure and pain drugs; this was way back. I have since been in pain, I have nothing left to sell,” says the 66-year-old. For years, she has been surviving on traditional medicines.
Margaret Njeri Mburu’s arthritis took her to every corner of the country in search of treatment, thanks to her relatives’ generosity. However, the support has waned since her condition was worsening. The 69-year-old has been surviving on painkillers.
Mrs Karanja and Mrs Mburu are a representation of millions of Kenyans who miss out on medical treatment due to the high costs.
However, armed with their Kang’ata Care cards, the two are able to access free medical care. Ms Karanja has since had surgery on her back disc while Ms Mburu is scheduled for an operation early next month.
“I thank God that I am not worried about my condition anymore. Whenever I feel any pain, I can rush to any hospital, as long as I have the card, and get treated,” Ms Karanja said.
According to the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), for every Sh100 that a Kenyan spends on health, Sh28 is out-of-pocket. These out-of-pocket payments are a financial burden or risk to households. This ratio is above the average of Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Rwanda by 4.1 per cent.
“In the advent of increased non-communicable diseases such as cancer that require long time treatment, reduction of the out-of-pocket payments is important in sustaining affordability and access to services,” said IEA in its 2020 analysis.
Kangata Care, an initiative of Governor Irungu Kang’ata, has been set up to help Murang’a County residents access health care by eliminating the out-of-pocket barrier.
The service is changing people's healthcare behaviour as they are able to access the quality health services they need, without suffering financial hardship.
The initiative, which targets the elderly, disabled and the vulnerable was arrived at after a survey done in the county found that the majority of the residents did not have National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) cards, hampering their access to health care. Each of the 700 polling centres in the county was given 36 slots, with vetting committees tasked with identifying those who were eligible.
The county has since released Sh162.5 million to NHIF and about 20,000 residents have been issued with cards. The money was appropriated under recurrent expenditure.
The initiative has also been passed as a policy, which means even with the exit of the current government, it will continue.
“I ensured that we embedded this as a policy for continuity. Most of the programmes that die with the exit of a regime are never policies. This will outlast our leadership,” Dr Kang’ata said.
He adds: “I know by giving free health care, the money will come back to the county government in form of a profit; NHIF when the patients are treated, they pay capitation for inpatients while reimbursing the hospital for outpatient services. For capitation, we will register all the beneficiaries to public hospitals, this means the capitation will increase. When they are admitted to any hospital, the county claims the money from NHIF.”
Under the scheme, patients get treatment for chronic diseases, dental, optical, inpatient and outpatient services in public and private facilities. There’s also a last expense payout of Sh100,000 for principal members and dependants.
When Solomon Maina’s mother, who was a beneficiary, died last November, the family received Sh100,000.
“At first, I thought it was a joke ... within three days, they had processed the money which really helped in buying the coffin and feeding my people,” he said.
According to Dr Kang’ata, the initiative does not cover dependants, but the county will from tomorrow conduct a one-month campaign to register dependants.
“When they are not registered then it becomes very difficult for them to access health care using the card, that’s why we are incorporating families,” the governor said.
Dr Kang’ata said there is a huge opportunity for the country to invest more in the health sector where people can go and get free services in a sustainable manner.
“The goodness with the public insurance model is that people will seek services when they are in need. This will improve our health financing. I am optimistic that once funds are made available by the county assembly, then we will enrol more people,” he said.