The race for countries in the region to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) is on, with Kenya launching the pilot phase, years after Rwanda began its programme.
Under the pilot programme, some 3.2 million people from four counties — Kisumu, Machakos, Nyeri and Isiolo — will benefit from free health services provided by the government.
Those registered under the programme are the unemployed, who are not automatically covered by the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).
The households were identified and registered by the Ministry of Social Services and Gender.
The UHC package will cater for outpatient care such as consultation, mental illness and emergency health care.
The cover will also include the inpatient care that will cover medical and surgical services. It will also include treatment and medical care of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV.
Other services to be offered will include distribution of mosquito nets to the households, public health awareness campaign, screening of non-communicable diseases, door-to-door child immunisation services.
Maternal and child health are the main areas of coverage for the UHC as there is already enough evidence that most households, especially the poor, spend more on maternal and child health complications as a result of lack of medical cover.
“The UHC's aim is to cut costs of the out of pocket expenditure for families on health while providing them with better health services,” said an official of the Ministry of Health.
The World Health Organisation data shows that Kenya still has a high, maternal mortality at 488 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
While this is below the sub-Saharan average of 640 deaths per 100,000, Kenya experiences a very slow progression in maternal health.
Over seven million children under five years die each year, mainly from preventable and treatable conditions.
The country is ranked 39th globally in under-five deaths.
Sicily Kariuki, Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary, said the results from the four selected counties for the pilot would inform the rollout of the programme across the country.
“UHC is not a new concept in Kenya since the government has over the years been implementing it through abolishing of user fees in dispensaries and health centers since 2013. Initiatives like the Linda Mama free maternity care programme and health subsidies for the elderly and the poor have all been part of UHC,” said Ms Kariuki.
The counties for the pilot were selected based on the research conducted based on the Kenya Health strategic and health plan 2014 – 2018, the rate/number of non-communicable diseases, number of accidents, rate and cases of maternal/child mortality, prevalence of the communicable diseases like HIV.
WHO defines universal health care as access to quality preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitation and palliative health services regardless of their ability to pay.
Soumya Swaminathan, deputy director general for programmes at WHO, says “Universal health coverage can ensure that everyone – including newborns – has access to the health services they need, without facing financial hardship. Progress on newborn health care is a win-win situation – it saves lives and is critical for early child development thus impacting on families, society, and future generations.”