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Columnists

Early lessons from corona pandemic

 public health official
A public health official in protective gear. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

What started as a challenge for China has quickly spread to all continents and become the greatest threat to health, economies and society in the entire world.

Kenya has experienced challenges around the 2007-8 post-election violence and the 2017 elections turmoil. None of these has been anywhere near the current coronavirus pandemic.

The reactions by governments across the world provide very useful lessons for Kenya moving forward. First, is the importance of technology. When Kenyans adopted M-Pesa, there was marked excitement. Since then there have been a lot of conversations in the country about deepening our technological innovation and adoption. Several years ago, Konza City was muted as part of this process. In 2013, the Jubilee government campaigned on a platform of technology, christening themselves the digital team.

One of the memorable promises they made was issuance of laptops to school-going children. This project though was never fully successful and was quietly abandoned mid-stream. Globally, there is recognition that the 4th industrial revolution is about technology. However, this pandemic demonstrates that our efforts to adopt technology, though in the right direction, are still too slow. It is time to urgently embrace technology in most of our processes.

The second is the importance of public goods and facilities. Due to the neglect of public facilities, many Kenyans have for several years relied on private service. When the education system became ineffective, instead of seeking to have it fixed, Kenyans turned to academies. When the health system almost ground to a halt, private hospitals mushroomed. When public transport became a nightmare, we invented matatus.

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However, the challenges the world faces with containing the virus demonstrate the importance of having robust and well-developed public health facilities. Many countries are grappling with their health systems being overwhelmed and some contemplating constructing emergency health facilities. In Kenya, we chose the option of private health.

It is now clear that private facilities cannot replace the government in the provision of essential public services. The proposal in the draft BBI document that public officials must ensure that the sector they oversee deliver services and that they too use those services is apt.

Third is the importance of equity in service delivery. One of the reasons for the introduction of devolution was to address disparity in development across the country. Ten years later progress has been made. However, the facilities in several parts of the country are still substandard. The blame though is not on the national government alone. Some counties have not delivered on their mandates. When a crisis like the current one strikes the failure of leadership in delivery of basic services gets exposed. This is evident from the state of health facilities in some counties and the exposure that citizens have as a result.

Fourth is responsive policy making. Many countries have adopted different approaches to fighting the virus. While they are all agreed on the need for social distancing, the approach to achieving this has varied from country to country. Some are more successful than others. This demonstrates the need to take policy making more seriously and to ensure that it is always responsive.

Many governments are quoting scientific evidence as the basis of their changes to policy measures, they are taking. In this country, research continues to be underfunded.

If there is one lesson to learn is the need for greater investment in research and linkages between researchers and policy makers. This will enable countries to respond to emerging challenges based on the update scientific knowledge and discoveries.

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