By MIKE MWANIKI
Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki has pledged to reform the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) beginning January 2019 as the government accelerates efforts to rollout Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
Speaking to Health Business, Ms Kariuki observed that reforming NHIF would be her number one priority in 2019.
“The fund must be reformed to ensure its operations are streamlined and undertaken in a transparent manner devoid of corruption as we accelerate efforts in rolling out UHC for all Kenyans,” she said.
Kariuki noted NHIF needs to be supported since the public health insurer will be expected to deliver premiums in the roll-out of UHC.
The announcement came after former NHIF bosses Geoffrey Mwangi and Simeon ole Kirgotty were among 18 NHIF suspects charged in December 2018 in the Anti-Corruption Court in Nairobi.
According to the budget policy statement released during the launch of President Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda in January 2018, the government hoped to increase the number of people covered under NHIF from 16.5 million to 25.7 million, a figure that will hit 51.5 million, Kenya’s projected population by 2022.
“The government will amend NHIF Act to align it with UHC and review laws governing private insurance companies to encourage investment and bring cost of cover within the reach of every Kenyan,” the statement said.
Ms Kariuki challenged the Kenya Healthcare Federation (KHF) to be in fore-front in speaking out against corruption.
“President Kenyatta should not be a lone-ranger in the fight against corruption. If we do not win the battle against corruption in Kenya, even investments in the sector will be adversely affected,” the CS told the Health Sector Round Up 2018 meeting.
KHF is the health sector board of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) whose objective is to promote strategic public-private partnership and works towards achieving national access to quality healthcare.
KHF chairman Dr Amit Thakker recommended the formation of a Health Authorities Commission to hold NHIF accountable since the public insurer will handle the biggest chunk of UHC money.
The proposed commission should also be tasked to hold other county UHC programmes accountable.
“Currently, Makueni Care—which was among the first UHC strategy to be rolled out—is grappling with huge amounts of fraud. We would like this issue to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” Dr Thakker noted.
Apart from Makueni County, Dr Thakker said KHF was also collaborating with Kirinyaga, Mombasa, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu and Isiolo counties.
Private sector and development partners, the CS noted, will have a huge role to play as Kenya accelerates efforts to rollout UHC.
She also identified emphasis on Primary Health Care (PHC) as the strategy which will make a “difference in the lives of Kenyans”.
Experts say achieving UHC means access to essential health services for everyone—including safe, effective and affordable medicines and vaccines—without financial hardship.
Department for International Development (DFID) official, Ms Tessa Mattholie said although development partners were excited on the rollout of UHC, the government should invest more in the health sector and also address corruption.
“Emphasis should be on social accountability, governance and transparency so that movement of money should be a matter of policy,” Mattholie noted.
She said development partners had adopted a ‘laid back’ attitude as they await forensic audit reports from the Office of the Auditor-General, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Treasury, on alleged corruption at the health ministry.
At the same time, Ms Mattholie revealed that a German development agency known as GIZ—which was working with other partners—to improve access to safe water and health care services especially for the poor and members of the informal sector, was pulling out from Kenya.
Ms Mattholie revealed that DFID was disbursing 100 million sterling pounds to support maternal new born health, family planning and nutrition programmes in Kenya.
“However, unlike Rwanda and Ethiopia governments which receive direct financial aid from DFID– as we have confidence in their financial systems—it is a pity we stopped doing the same in Kenya since 2009 following a text book scandal which occurred at the Ministry of Education.”
UNDP Resident Representative Mr Siddharth Chatterjee said the high burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), especially diabetes and high blood pressure, should be urgently addressed as they had potential of bankrupting NHIF.
“Prevention of chronic diseases whose management entails lengthy treatment of in-patients in health facilities should be prioritised.”
In a recent report, health experts warned that UHC is unachievable without the provision of quality health services.
A joint report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank said poor quality health services are holding back progress on improving health in all countries income levels.
They said inaccurate diagnosis, medication errors, inappropriate or unnecessary treatment, inadequate or unsafe clinical facilities or practices prevail in all countries.