Here’s How We Can Confront Kenya’s Healthcare Crisis and Medical Errors because Life and Death is in the balance

My mind is deeply per­turbed by the recur­ring life-threat­en­ing events affect­ing our peo­ple, espe­cial­ly since these inci­dents are occur­ring in our hos­pi­tals, where lives are meant to be saved. I am refer­ring to the issue of med­ical errors.

In ear­ly 2023, Kitui Coun­ty Refer­ral Hos­pi­tal mis­di­ag­nosed my moth­er with a frac­ture and even pro­ceed­ed to place her leg in a cast. Addi­tion­al X‑rays in Nairo­bi revealed that her leg was, in fact, not frac­tured. Thank­ful­ly, we took cor­rec­tive mea­sures in good time. In Sep­tem­ber last year, Hamp­tons Hos­pi­tal and Cop­tic Hos­pi­tal in Kakamega and Vihi­ga Coun­ties, respec­tive­ly, mis­di­ag­nosed my moth­er fig­ure Mwal­imu Alice Ocha­mi, a renowned retired teacher, with arthri­tis. This trig­gered a chain of events that saw her hos­pi­tal­ized in the ICU for the entire Jan­u­ary. Thank­ful­ly, she is out of dan­ger and back home treat­ing very painful deep bedsores.

I men­tion the names of these hos­pi­tals not to malign them but to show that med­ical errors is a severe prob­lem that afflicts both pub­lic and pri­vate hos­pi­tals across Kenya. Even the late Safari­com Chief Bob Col­ly­more was mis­di­ag­nosed as hav­ing a Vit­a­min D defi­cien­cy. It was not until he sought treat­ment over­seas that he was cor­rect­ly diag­nosed with stage four Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

The Kenya Nation­al Union of Med­ical Lab­o­ra­to­ry Offi­cers (KNUMLO) esti­mates that three out of every ten Kenyan patients are mis­di­ag­nosed. This aggra­vates ill­ness and leads to per­ma­nent dis­abil­i­ty or death.

Even with cor­rect diag­noses, chal­lenges per­sist due to chron­ic under­staffing in gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals. With only 60,000 nurs­es for over 50 mil­lion Kenyans, nurs­es are over­worked and under­paid, despite Kenya recruit­ing 2,500 nurs­es for jobs in Sau­di Ara­bia, which is not a bad idea, only that we need to employ more local­ly. The WHO rec­om­mends 25 nurs­es per 10,000 peo­ple, but Kenya has only 13. The doc­tor short­age is more acute, with one doc­tor per 17,000 patients, far from the WHO’s rec­om­mend­ed one per 1,000.

Many qual­i­fied doc­tors are unem­ployed or seek­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties abroad.

Let’s face it, Kenya’s health sec­tor faces even more chal­lenges as drug short­ages in pub­lic hos­pi­tals, often forc­ing patients to buy their own med­ica­tions. Addi­tion­al­ly, 75% of Kenyans lack health insur­ance, leav­ing many unable to afford hos­pi­tal care. This sit­u­a­tion is crit­i­cal in rur­al areas, where 80% are uninsured.

Now that I have loud­ly voiced the chal­lenges we are fac­ing in this sec­tor, where I am not an author­i­ty, what solu­tions do I suggest,

First­ly, I sug­gest enhanc­ing med­ical edu­ca­tion. Improv­ing med­ical train­ing will boost diag­nos­tic accu­ra­cy and patient care. Can we suf­fi­cient­ly fund Kenya Med­ical Train­ing Col­leges and incen­tivize pri­vate sec­tor invest­ments in this sec­tor with reli­able policies?

Sec­ond­ly, can we employ all legal means to upgrade health­care infra­struc­ture? Mod­ern­iz­ing facil­i­ties ensures a steady sup­ply of essen­tial medications.

Third­ly, for heav­en’s sake, can we improve the work­ing con­di­tions of our ded­i­cat­ed med­ical pro­fes­sion­als? Offer­ing com­pet­i­tive pay and ben­e­fits will retain them and reduce brain drain.

Fourth­ly, can our pol­i­cy­mak­ers strength­en health­care poli­cies? Enforc­ing high stan­dards and account­abil­i­ty will min­i­mize med­ical errors.

Fifth, can we make the much-dis­cussed expan­sion of pub­lic med­ical insur­ance a real­i­ty? There has been too much talk about the Social Health Insur­ance Fund (SHIF) that blinds us to the real­i­ty that mama mbo­ga and boda boda rid­ers are going through.

Undoubtably, our Pres­i­den­t’s efforts to reor­ga­nize the health sec­tor are com­mend­able. Equal­ly com­pared to very many oth­er coun­tries Kenya has made tremen­dous advances in this sector.

The fact is, just like my mum’s case and that of Mwal­imu Alice Ocha­mi, med­ical errors, In the Unit­ed States, are esti­mat­ed to cause 251,000 deaths annu­al­ly, fur­ther a John Hop­kins study found that 795,000 Amer­i­cans suf­fer per­ma­nent dis­abil­i­ty or death from diag­nos­tic errors each year. In the Euro­pean Union, near­ly a quar­ter of cit­i­zens have been direct­ly affect­ed by a med­ical error. While Kenya may not have such pre­cise data shouldn’t these sig­ni­fy that indeed life and death is in the bal­ance? Think green, act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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