Covid or no Covid, why people avoid hospitals at all costs

Friday September 04 2020

A nearly empty hospital ward in Kisii following a healthcare workers' strike in 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG


People often avoid going to a clinic if they are unwell. Many times, when you visit a health clinic, it is filled with young mothers. As a matter of fact, people would rather walk into a pharmacy and explain their symptoms and get advice from over the counter.

When things get really serious, that is the time they will make their way to a clinic or even a hospital, and this is often the last resort when the condition symptoms have become unbearable.

The Kenyan government aims on attaining the Big Four agenda — health, housing, manufacturing and food security. All of these sectors are important and should be priorities, but if there was an agenda that was more important than the rest right now it is health for various reasons.

For the first time ever, people are in need of health services in the entire country at the same time. Presidents across the globe have been criticised for not taking health care seriously enough. For instance, in the US, the Donald Trump administration was criticised for shutting down an early warning programme for detecting the spread of viruses.

Right now, we are asking questions about access to medical services. In the aspect of affordability, is one able to afford to do a Covid-19 test? Will the government pay for that?

There is an unspoken and cringing fear of high hospital bills of individuals who have contracted the virus and cannot be taken care of through home-based care. Intensive Care Unit costs are extremely high and many families are not able to afford the costs unless they pool resources.


So, people will avoid hospitals at all costs. Even now many people are self- medicating without confirming whether they have the virus or not, just relying on symptoms. Those who are asymptomatic, majority will not test and do not plan on doing so.

Our government did push to launch initiatives and encourage people to register with the National Health Insurance Fund before the pandemic hit, but it did not do well.

Today many youth do not have a NHIF card. They don’t see the benefit of having one. Some say that it is too expensive, even though they can save.

But I think the more pressing matter is if NHIF is reliable for the youth to see its value.

This perception could have changed when the Universal Health Coverage was launched in some in particular counties like Nyeri where residents were encouraged to register with NHIF for free medical care. But UHC is coming to an abrupt end due to lack of sustainability.

Article 43 of our constitution does give us the right to standardised health care and it is a shame that UHC is failing, our rights are being violated.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa, executive director, Siasa Place @NerimaW