Dear doctor/president, our stomachs are empty, so stop examining our toes please

Friday April 26 2019

universal health coverage

Kakamega County Governor Wycliffe Oparanya presents an NHIF card to Fridah Musungu during the official launch of the universal health coverage at Bukhungu Stadium on April 5, 2019. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NMG 

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Doctors have to have a sixth sense to understand what is happening in the anatomy of a patient.

As soon as you walk into the room, your vitals are first checked, to make sure nothing is out of line.

But once the basics are confirmed, no high blood pressure or high temperature, then the real work begins, of determining what is actually ailing you.

As you soon as you begin to describe your symptoms, you can only hope that the doctor will guess what the problem is.

Then of course, you have to hope you have a doctor who believes you. “Are you sure that is how you feel?” is not something that you want to hear from a doctor. Because if he/she doesn’t know, then who does?

Then after the description of the issue, you are asked to do certain tests, which should hopefully turn out positive.


Recently, a young mother was explaining how she was in and out of hospital the past week.

She was just about to start up a small business because her work of washing clothes was not enough to make ends meet. She had requested a loan of Ksh 7,000 ($70 )and that very weekend, her five-year-old daughter fell ill.

She rushed her daughter to a clinic nearby and was told that her stomach ache was due to an amoeba.

She bought medication, only to return three days later because her daughter was still in pain, only to be sent back with more medication for amoeba.

Then one day, she took her daughter to the bathroom and realised that she had swallowed the key to a padlock when it appeared in her stool.

At this point, complete panic and wondering just how she managed to swallow the item in the first place. Followed by anger at all the medication for an ailment that did not exist and wondering whether her daughter needed a tetanus shot – which at this point she could not afford because she had already spent all her money on the trips to the clinic.

How many stories have we heard of misdiagnosis? All this as the ministry recently announced that Kenya has a shortage of doctors and dentists.

The medical regulator has deregistered 2,063 doctors for failure to apply for retention in the register. Just a few months after Universal Health Care was launched. The patient-doctor ratio in Kenya is currently at one to 16,000.

A good doctor should be able to use theory and practice to understand symptoms. A doctor has to be able to understand the body, and also be as eager to solve an issue as the patient.

If our country were a patient and the doctor our president, then it would be obvious that he has absolutely no clue about the pains of his people.

The Big Four agenda is falling apart before our eyes. We can talk about food security all day, but it means nothing if the rains refuse to fall and drought persists, leaving farmers to struggle daily.

People can hardly afford to buy food. Some are sleeping hungry and buying tomatoes or potatoes is a luxury.

Universal Health Care is beginning to look like a fairy tale we tell our children at night. The kind where everyone lives happily ever after.

From the shortage of doctors, the abduction and evacuation of some Cuban doctors, to the scandals within NHIF, what healthcare do we really have?

Or for that matter housing, when we open a newspaper to a surprise announcement on the housing levy fund that many vehemently rejected.

That should not be a surprise, 1.5 per cent is a lot to ask for from an already overtaxed citizenry. Especially in an era of corruption scandals, no sense of accountability measures and random arrests.

We find ourselves here, at the hospital. Explaining a hurting stomach, and the doctor keeps looking at our toes. Giving medication that will do us of no help.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW