Innovations needed for Kenya to achieve universal healthcare

Investing in the latest innovations in medicines, therapies and medical devices should be a national priority alongside achieving health insurance coverage for all. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

For Kenya to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) over the next five years, we have to identify and adopt medical technological innovations that improve early detection and prevention of diseases while lowering the cost of treatment.

Investing in the latest innovations in medicines, therapies and medical devices should be a national priority alongside achieving health insurance coverage for all. Innovations in medical technology save patients, families, employers, insurers, governments and hospitals the huge burden of treating and managing diseases. The World Bank estimates that half of the global population cannot access essential health services.

Over 100 million people fall into the poverty bracket each year due to escalating medical expenses. It is estimated that 800 million people spend ten per cent or more of their budget on medical expenses.

In adopting innovative medical technology, health care providers can ensure diseases are detected and treated early enough when it is relatively cheaper to do so. This is especially the case with non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, stroke and hypertension which are on the rise and are expensive to treat and manage.

Technological innovation in health care has been shown to have major economic benefits. Adoption of the latest medical technology has gained traction in Kenya in recent years. The government through the medical equipment leasing programme sought to boost screening, diagnosis and treatment of diseases in key public health facilities. Although dogged by controversy, the initiative is noble and timely as it reduces the cost of accessing healthcare especially among poor and marginalized communities in rural Kenya.

Medical technology innovations that can significantly improve our healthcare delivery system include those that enable early detection of illnesses. For example, procedures such as biopsies and endoscopies are not only invasive but also costly. Use of non-invasive procedures using the latest technology reduces the cost of surgery as the patient does not have to spend an inordinately long time recuperating in hospital.

Telemedicine has also minimized direct contact between patient and physician since they can now engage online.

While the latest breakthrough medical technology innovations come with a high price tag, they ultimately reduce costs of patient care over the long-term.

The high cost of most medical innovations including drugs and equipment could be addressed through public-private partnerships. Government alone cannot afford to provide everything.

But we should always remember that the benefits of medical technology far outweigh the costs particularly in managing chronic ailments whose impact is felt over a long time.

For technology to be of value, we must continuously invest in upgrades and maintenance.

We should eliminate all forms of inefficiencies in our health system including corruption for Kenyans to enjoy the fruits of the latest breakthroughs in medicine.

Lowering the cost of treatment also brings down health insurance premiums thus improving coverage.

CAROLINE MUNENE, Group chief executive officer, AAR Insurance.