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Integrate technology into the healthcare sector, health experts urge

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Health stakeholders in Kenya are calling on the government to integrate technology into the healthcare sector, saying this is the only way to ensure quality health care provision across the country.

Speaking during the Africa Health Agenda International Conference, experts have termed challenges such as logistics the key impediment to quality health care particularly in rural Kenya and Africa at large.

According to Mah Sere Keita, the Director of Programs in charge of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine, technology is revolutionizing testing and delivery of samples. Keita says, “African countries have poor infrastructure. Beyond the urban areas, some parts of respective countries are inaccessible. Hence, using technology such as drones to transport samples and even drugs across inaccessible regions can bridge the gap.”

Further, Keita points out that due to poor technology infrastructure in the healthcare sector, rural dwellers rarely get the care they need. As such, technology such as rapid testing is essential.

“Technology can enable fast and accurate testing and instant results. This reduces the health diagnosis backlog. Further, more people can get health care and diseases can be caught and treated early enough,” says Keita.

While Africa still lags behind, the world has made strides in healthcare technology. However, Keita says imported technology cannot attend to African healthcare needs. As such, it is important to innovate local solutions that are tailor-made for local problems. She says policy formulation is important to ensure quality healthcare and access for all.

Dr. Esther Njoroge, the Advisory Group Member in charge of Civil Society Engagement Mechanism for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) 2030 adds that favorable policy and proper implementation mechanisms is key towards quality healthcare for all. Dr. Njoroge, however, faults utopian policy-making processes for Africa’s health challenges. 

“We need policies that are people-centered. You must engage citizens before making; we need metrics weighing mechanisms to be able to gauge the progress of the policy. That way, we will be able to hold governments into account,” Dr. Njoroge says.

Kenya’s UHC plan came to life in 2017 under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big 4 agenda. The goal of UHC in the country is to actualize 100 percent cost subsidy on essential health services.

UHC aims to reduce medical out-of-pocket expenses by 54 percent as a percentage of household expenditure. In 2018, the government piloted UHC in 4 counties namely Machakos, Kisumu, Nyeri and Isiolo. The pilot programme in the four counties was to inform the rollout of UHC to the rest of the 47 Counties. However, to date, UHC is yet to be rolled out nationally due to funding and labor force challenges.

While UHC was pioneered in the country 3 years ago, access to healthcare in Kenya still poses a challenge.

According to the World Bank, even with public health insurance available since 1966, only 20 percent of Kenyans have access to some sort of medical coverage. With the population at over 47 million and rising, it means as many as 35 million Kenyans are excluded from quality health care coverage.

Only 3 percent of the Kenyan poor have access to any health insurance coverage; compared to 38 percent among the rich. Put differently, even though only 19 percent of Kenyans are covered by any form of health insurance, only one out of every 12 of these people will be from the poorest part of the population.

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