A peep into Kenya’s India health experiment

By: LUKOYE ATWOLI

President Uhuru Kenyatta and a host of other African leaders were in India in the past week to discuss trade and investment opportunities.

During this trip, the President negotiated a number of deals touching on the health sector in Kenya.

According to a press release from the President’s office, Indian companies will be facilitated to set up specialised hospitals in Kenya in order to reduce the cost of treatment especially for chronic diseases like cancer and heart diseases.

Further, there was an indication that Indian specialists would be welcomed to the country in order to facilitate skills transfer and reduce the current exodus in the name of medical tourism.

Finally, the Kenyan and Indian presidents agreed to facilitate Indian drug manufacturers to set up shop in Kenya in order to reduce cost of medications.

In my estimation, the President is working hard to improve the health of the population and make health care affordable and available to all those in need.

This is indeed commendable, and demonstrates that his heart is in the right place.

One would argue that the President has correctly analysed the situation and made an accurate diagnosis.

UNNECESSARY DEATHS

Our health system is broken.

People are dying unnecessarily from preventable and easily managed diseases, while some are spending unnecessarily huge amounts of money seeking treatment abroad when the same should be easily available here.

Costs of hospitalisation in this country are high, and illness is a common factor driving many Kenyans below the poverty line.

Medications are expensive, and often unavailable to those that need them.

Finally, there is a dearth of specialised health workers, resulting in less than optimal care for our people.

Having analysed the situation, the President appears to have arrived at a plan to address the gaps identified.

His plan seems to be predicated on localising the services that people go to seek outside the country.

The President seems determined to “domesticate” the billions of shillings Kenyans spend annually on healthcare in India, and his strategy is to bring those services home instead.

This involves getting Indian drug manufacturers, hospitals and specialists to set up shop in Kenya.

In my view, that is only one angle that may be pursued in addressing the problems in the Kenyan health care sector.

The better question to ask is why health services are expensive in Kenya. Why are drugs expensive in this country?

AN EXPENSIVE ACTIVITY

Why is hospitalisation so expensive? Why don’t we have a sufficient number of specialists and facilities to take care of these debilitating chronic diseases?

I have some thoughts on this: Firstly, due to our taxation regime, it is very expensive to import medications and other items required in the delivery of healthcare services.

Secondly, the price of energy in Kenya is very high compared to our competitors even in India.

Running medical equipment is an expensive proposition, and unless the government makes certain concessions, it is unlikely that any new facility here will be that much cheaper than Kenyan facilities.

Other costs, including costs of labour, compliance with various regulators, and costs of raw materials are comparatively higher.

To be honest, the cost of living in India is lower than that in Kenya.

If the government takes steps to reduce these costs and incentivise Kenyan entrepreneurs, we will only need Indian help in training highly specialised medical personnel due to their comparative numerical advantage.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION