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Health & Fitness

Number of Kenyan medics rising but woes persist

A nurse tending to a patient. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A nurse tending to a patient. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The number of registered medical personnel in Kenya edged up slightly in 2017, a new survey shows, boosting ongoing efforts to improve coverage by qualified health workers.

The Economic Survey 2018 showed that the total number of registered health personnel rose by 9.02 per cent from 147,439 in 2016 to 160,749 in 2017, while the coverage per 100,000 population increased from 329 to 349.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum density threshold of 345 skilled health professionals per 100,000 people.

This, it says, would help to ensure access to health coverage, particularly the attainment of an 80 per cent coverage rate for deliveries by skilled birth attendants or for measles immunisation.

Analysts warned that the health worker density does not take into consideration accessibility, equality, quality and efficiency.

For instance, globally, about half of the population lives in rural areas but less than 38 per cent of the nurses work there.

In Kenya, while 61.8 per cent of births are attended by skilled health professionals, according to World Bank data, only 44 per cent in rural areas enjoy the same.

Improved health worker density is one benefit of the devolved system which has promoted accountability and efficiency in service delivery.

The Economic Survey 2018 indicated that Diploma in Community Health Nursing continues to attract a high number of medical trainees at that level.

Correspondingly, the highest increase in the number of personnel per 100,000 population was registered nurses — from 106 in 2016 to 112 in 2017.

Nursing students are expected to increase further from 3,825 in 2016/17 to 4,104 in 2017/18. Among the different categories for registered medical professionals, only public health technicians did not increase within that review period, remaining stagnant at 6,752.

The survey further showed that the country has only one nutrition and dietetic technician per 100,000 population, the least, followed by three dentists for the same population.

There is however hope of improved coverage by qualified medical personnel in the short term as more students take up training.

The survey showed that the number of personnel in training increased by 38.68 per cent from 17,224 in 2015/2016 to 23,887 in 2016/2017. The total number of medical trainees at the various Kenya Medical Training College (KTMC) campuses increased by 13.4 per cent from 7,989 in 2015/16 to 9,058 in 2016/17.

This is mostly because of an increase in trainees in diploma courses which accounted for 72.9 per cent of the total students.

More students are undertaking diploma, certificate and higher diploma courses in a descending order of popularity.

From 13,798 undergraduate and postgraduate students in 2016/17, the number is expected to increase by 41.9 per cent to 19,583 in 2017/18.

Postgraduate medical students are expected to increase by 3.6 per cent to 2,468 in 2017/18.

The education trends among medical students is also a key indicator of the health systems in a country.

For 2017/18, there will be a provisional increase in the number of medical students in every field in cases where data for 2016/17 is available.

The total number of students studying medicine and surgery, nursing, dental surgery, environmental health and pharmacy will increase from 11,416 in 2016/17 to 12,395 in 2017/18.

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