By CPA Nyakoi Oreko Godfrey
Inevitable Paradigm Shift?
Kenya, like many other developing countries, has struggled with the provision of equitable healthcare services for its citizens. The country’s healthcare system has been plagued with various challenges such as poor infrastructure, inadequate funding, uneven distribution of health facilities, and a shortage of healthcare professionals. Inequalities in accessing healthcare have created a significant gap between those who can afford it and those who cannot. As a result, healthcare democratization has emerged as a priority in Kenya, with the aim of ensuring that all citizens have equitable access to healthcare services. This article discusses the significance of healthcare democratization in the Kenyan context.
What Is Healthcare Democratization?
Hood and Price (2014) define healthcare democratization as the process of ensuring that all individuals have access to equitable healthcare services regardless of their social class, economic status, or geographic location. It involves removing barriers that prevent certain groups from accessing health services, improving healthcare infrastructure, increasing healthcare workforce, and implementing policies that prioritize the needs of marginalized communities. Healthcare democratization seeks to make healthcare more affordable, accessible, and effective.
The Kenyan Healthcare System Status
Kenya has a mixed healthcare system that is predominantly publicly funded but also involves private providers at varying levels of the system. The country’s healthcare system comprises four levels: community, primary, secondary, and tertiary. Community health services provide preventive and basic curative services, while primary care facilities provide basic curative and preventive services, referral, and emergency care. Secondary and tertiary care facilities are responsible for specialized and long-term care services.
Despite these provisions, Kenya’s healthcare system faces several challenges that make healthcare out of reach for many citizens. Public healthcare funding is inadequate to provide equitable healthcare to all citizens, and a large portion of the population cannot afford private healthcare services. The country’s health infrastructure is also inadequate, with some parts of Kenya being underserved, particularly in rural areas. There is a shortage of healthcare workers, and those available are unevenly distributed, with a significant number of professionals concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural areas with an inadequate healthcare workforce.
The Significance of Healthcare Democratization in Kenya
Healthcare democratization is an essential aspect of Kenya’s development agenda. The Kenyan government has demonstrated its commitment to healthcare democratization through the development and implementation of policies aimed at improving access to healthcare services like the Universal Healthcare Program. The significance of healthcare democratization in Kenya include.
1. Improving Health outcomes
Healthcare democratization has the potential to improve health outcomes by reducing health inequalities among the population. Access to healthcare services is an essential determinant of health outcomes. In Kenya, the lack of access to healthcare has contributed to high morbidity and mortality rates, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as women and children.
Through healthcare democratization, Kenya can improve the quality of healthcare services and ensure that all citizens can access these services. The government can develop policies and programs aimed at improving the availability and accessibility of healthcare services, especially in remote and marginalized areas, which will lead to better health outcomes.
2. Economic Benefits
Healthcare democratization can bring significant economic benefits to Kenya. Improved health outcomes can lead to increased productivity, resulting in economic growth. A healthy population is more likely to be productive and contribute to the country’s economy.
Investments in healthcare infrastructure and workforce development programs can also create job opportunities, contributing to sustainable economic development. Further, healthcare democratization can lead to a reduction in healthcare costs for individuals, which will contribute to financial savings and increased disposable income that can be channeled towards other productive sectors of the economy.
3. Reducing Health Inequalities
Healthcare democratization is a vital strategy for reducing health inequalities, particularly among marginalized and vulnerable populations. In Kenya, the inability to access healthcare services has resulted in significant health disparities, with some groups, such as women, children, and rural populations, being more vulnerable to poor health outcomes.
Through healthcare democratization, the government can develop policies and programs aimed at ensuring that all citizens have equal access to healthcare services. This will help reduce health inequalities by addressing the root causes of inequalities, including poverty, geographic location, and gender.
4. Strengthening Health Systems
Healthcare democratization can help strengthen Kenya’s health systems. The country’s healthcare system has been plagued with several challenges, from inadequate funding to a shortage of healthcare professionals. The government can address these challenges by investing in healthcare infrastructure, increasing healthcare workforce, and improving healthcare services’ quality.
Healthcare democratization can also help Kenya build a resilient health system capable of responding to health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s ability to respond to the pandemic has been challenging, given the limited healthcare resources and infrastructure. Through healthcare democratization, Kenya can build a strong health system capable of responding to future health emergencies.
5. Increasing Access to Specialized Healthcare Services
Healthcare democratization can improve access to specialized healthcare services, such as cancer treatment, surgical procedures, and mental healthcare. Specialized healthcare services are often expensive and inaccessible to many Kenyans due to the high costs associated with them.
Through healthcare democratization, the government can address these challenges by investing in specialized healthcare infrastructure and workforce development programs. This will increase access to specialized healthcare services, ensuring that all citizens can access essential health services, regardless of their social and economic class.
Challenges to Healthcare Democratization in Kenya
Despite the potential benefits of healthcare democratization in Kenya, several challenges could impede its successful implementation.
1. Inadequate Public Healthcare Funding
Kenya’s public healthcare funding is inadequate to provide equitable healthcare to all citizens. The government has committed to allocate 15% of the country’s total budget to healthcare, but this has not been achieved. The current public healthcare funding is insufficient to improve healthcare infrastructure, increase healthcare workforce, and provide essential healthcare services to all citizens.
2. Uneven Distribution of Healthcare Professionals
The lack of health workforce is a significant challenge facing Kenya’s healthcare system. Healthcare professionals are unevenly distributed, with a significant number of professionals concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural areas with an inadequate healthcare workforce.
3. Poor Quality of Healthcare Services
The quality of healthcare services in Kenya is inadequate, particularly in rural areas, where healthcare facilities lack basic supplies and equipment, and healthcare workers are not adequately trained. Private healthcare providers are often more expensive, making them out of reach for many Kenyans.
4. Poor Healthcare Infrastructure
Kenya’s healthcare infrastructure is inadequate, particularly in rural areas. Poor infrastructure limits access to healthcare services, making it difficult to provide essential health services to the population.
Healthcare democratization is an essential component of Kenya’s development agenda. Healthcare democratization aims to ensure equitable access to healthcare services, improve health outcomes, and reduce health inequalities. Kenya’s healthcare system faces several challenges, including inadequate public healthcare funding, an uneven distribution of healthcare professionals, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and poor quality of healthcare services. To realize the benefits of healthcare democratization, the government must invest in healthcare infrastructure, increase healthcare workforce, develop policies that address the root causes of health inequalities, and channel adequate funding to the healthcare system. This will result in better health outcomes, economic benefits, and ultimately, a more equitable distribution of healthcare services.
Hood, L., & Price, N. D. (2014). Demystifying disease, democratizing health care. Science translational medicine, 6(225), 225ed5-225ed5.
The writer is a member of ICPAK
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