Susan Nakhumicha: Health CS on looming doctors' strike

DN Bunge NHIF 1502 wd

Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Health Susan Nakhumicha before the National Assembly Departmental Committee on Health at the Bunge Towers Nairobi on February 15, 2024. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

If her appointment as Cabinet Secretary in October 2022 did not get her much attention, then Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha’s purported “transfer” of an OCS in Trans Nzoia nine months later did.

“I am giving an order, county commandant if you are here or you can hear me from wherever you are, by tomorrow the Matisi OCS should be gone,” said the CS during a burial in July last year.

Her directive generated a storm, especially on social media where she was the subject of ridicule considering that the transfer of police officers is not within her mandate.

“We are using the one government approach. That means that when I stand here, I am representing President William Ruto’s government and I am ordering the transfer of Matisi OCS,” she said.

Needless to say, her order was not implemented and was used by commentators to show the apparent confusion within the government at the time following many gaffes by high-ranking government officials.

In charge of the country’s critical health docket, Ms Nakhumicha is a supply chain professional and oversaw supplies for the Global Program for Research and Training at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

She previously also worked as the procurement and logistics manager at the Nairobi Women's Hospital.

Ms Nakhumicha is an alumnus of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Procurement and Management, and a Master's degree in Logistics, Procurement, and Supply Chain Management.

The CS has been in the news recently following her revelation that polygamous men will get medical cover for all their wives at no additional cost in the new health insurance plan.

“I must acknowledge, as a woman reading through some of the feedback, my most favorite was one where men were asking (what happens) if they have more than one wife. If I was allowed to respond as a wife, I would say no to others (women),” she said during a validation workshop on healthcare insurance regulations.

This is a departure from the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) rules that cover one spouse and five children. NHIF will in July be replaced by the Social Health Authority (SHA).

The SHA will have three funds, namely the Social Health Insurance Fund (SHIF), the Primary Healthcare Fund and the Emergency, Critical and Chronic Fund.

The health insurance reforms are set to see workers pay 2.75 percent of their gross pay to the SHIF starting July in what will see contributions for top earners rise by more than eight times.

The health docket has remained a hot potato in recent years amid mega corruption scandals, including the loss of billions of shillings meant for response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has been no different under Ms Nakhumicha. In May last year, the CS survived a purge that saw Public Health Principal Secretary Josephine Mburu leave following a botched Sh3.7 billion tender for the supply of treated mosquito nets.

The scandal saw President William Ruto sack the entire board of the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), which was the procuring entity of the nets, and suspended its CEO, Terry Ramadhani.

She was also one of the Cabinet Secretaries who were unaffected by the reshuffle in October last year, signalling the Head of State’s confidence in her work.

But Ms Nakhumicha has increased visits across the country in recent months particularly in the Western region, leading to speculation that she is eyeing an elective seat in the next general election slated for 2027.

The CS is not new to politics. In the 2022 general election, she vied for the Trans Nzoia Woman Representative seat under Ford Kenya.

She, however, emerged third behind the eventual winner Lilian Chebet Siyoi of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Democratic Action Party’s (DAP-Kenya) Phanice Khatundi.

“No, she will not be seeking any elective position,” said some of her handlers when contacted last week.

But the immediate headache for Ms Nakhumicha is the ongoing doctors’ strike called by the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union. The medics are demanding the employment of thousands of interns.

Even as the strike started last week, the CS said her ministry does not have the Sh4.9 billion needed to hire and post medical interns.

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