Deaths should jolt Kenya to expedite Uhuru’s healthcare agenda

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Two prominent Kenyans passed away two days apart less than a week ago. Being leaders with national reach and significance, the whole nation was literally thrown into mourning. Coincidentally, the two, Kibra MP Ken Okoth and Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso succumbed to a similar cause — cancer.

Both had been ailing for some time. Both had been hospitalised abroad at some point, and not for so short a time. Both died at a local hospital, the Nairobi Hospital. Hopefully, both will be interred this weekend.

Then, naturally, the nation will embark on the forgetting process. In a year or two, there is a high likelihood that only the two families will feel the void the departed souls left in their lives. The rest of us, including many in Bomet and Kibra, would have accepted and moved on. After all, many more others would die between now and the last week of July 2020.

But we need not just forget.

If we have to forget the virtues the two leaders espoused in their lifetime, as has been extolled in interlude between their deaths and their interment, let us not forget the fact their lives were made longer and less torturous because they had the privilege of relative financial muscle. They could afford good medical care even as they laboured against a terminal condition. We learnt that Dr Laboso managed her cancer for more than 28 years. Not a mean feat by any standards.

It is at this point that we must appreciate the fact that the whole idea of life is just about postponing death. The countdown to our deaths begin at our respective conception and everything in between is a management function. The ability and capacity of the management of life however is both external and internal to the person. There are those who are born with higher management tools, those who struggle and acquire the tools in life and those whose fate of lack is thrust unto them by the gods.

Then there is the role of the collective, the community, the State.

Of all the services governments all over the world provide, I am convinced that health should rank high up there. Governments being the collective and communal organisation of a people, it is only logical that they prioritise the living, the aliveness of their principal, the people, above all other aspects. For we must be alive to enjoy the road networks, the houses, the education, the jobs created by manufacturing plants etc.

That makes President Uhuru Kenyatta’s pursuit of affordable and high quality healthcare an idea which should have been implemented yesterday. It deserves the top place of the Big Four.

While the President’s Big Four envisages affordable healthcare for all, I tend to think this should be just but a starting point with the end goal being universal health provision. In the heat of Ken Okoth-Joyce Laboso emotional reaction to death, a common line was dropped about a girl who, suffering from a cancer, was turned away by the Kenyatta National Hospital because she did not have the requisite less-than-Sh3000 for admission.

Sadly she passed away a few months later and the big media did not notice until the two big people followed after consuming millions of shillings in medicare. It can be argued that Sh3,000 is generally affordable and would ordinarily not stand between life and death for a majority of Kenyans. But it did for that poor girl, pun intended.

Affordability is a relative concept but death is not. It is absolute hence the need to put in place systems which allow everyone to access the right best medical care whenever they require it irrespective of their ability to afford.

And it is not just cancer, though it seems to be the talk of the day. Kenyans are dying from a million more diseases including age-old malaria, kwashiorkor, marasmus, cholera, snake bites and as a result of traffic accidents. The bottom line is these people die mainly because they cannot access timely medical attention. It shouldn’t be affordability but availability.

But there is a way to get there.

For the country to achieve universal healthcare access, Uhuru’s affordable healthcare pillar of the Big Four will have to be supported and realised ASAP first.

Fare thee well Madam Laboso, Honourable Okoth and all the Kenyans we have lost to the cruel hand of death.

Michael Mugwang’a is a communications consultant based in Nairobi. [email protected] Twitter: @Mikeysoul

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