Transform the health sector for meaningful development

The recent World Cancer Day highlighted the reality of Kenya’s broken health system. Previously considered a non-epidemic, cancer in recent years has proven to be a more ravaging risk.

Against cancer, we are sitting ducks. We have limited facilities. We lack the equipment to deliver treatment. We have almost zero epidemiological data.

There are few oncologists in the country. We have not dedicated the same kind of resources that we dedicated in the fight against Aids and malaria.

This is unacceptable, considering that for over half a century, we have been chorusing how disease is a major impediment to development.

Granted, we have made steps in increasing physical accessibility by reducing the long distances that some Kenyans have to cover to get to a health facility – but this is not all. A lot more still remains to be done.

If we are not going to fix the healthcare system, then we could as well forget about the Promised Land of sustained economic development in the next one and a half decades that we constantly dream of.

How then, do we fix Kenya’s public healthcare system? Some of our neighbouring countries have delivered much more impressive health outcomes, while we continue chest-thumping about being the regional economic powerhouse.

Even with the facilities and equipment that we have, it is possible to generate much better outcomes than we already are. Is our strategy hamstringing efficiency of the healthcare system?


A haphazardly designed and executed decentralization system has contributed to the chaos by splitting responsibility and accountability for health.

That county governments are responsible for implementation but national government retain substantial policy power.

Maybe we devolved health too soon, or devolved too much or we have to go through the teething problems to refine and reinvigorate it.

What Kenya needs are people who will get things done to ensure systems function properly all the time.

Therefore, the challenge for the managers of the country’s healthcare system in whatever jurisdiction is to consider the strategy statements – the vision, mission, objectives, scope and competitive advantage -- and work towards achieving them.

Even as we rethink our strategy for the public healthcare system, we should also cascade it to the entire healthcare workforce of different cadres. This will ultimately transform the mindset of medics working in these facilities.

Ask anyone who has been to a public health facility about their experiences and they will regale you with tales of terror at the hands of the nurses and other health workers. It gets worse in the maternity wards.

At the end of the day, this country needs a healthy population to create wealth and livelihoods -- and ultimately achieve its national development goals.

The public health system serves the vast majority of the Kenyan population and fixing it would translate into huge economic benefits.