By Maureen Okoth, Project Coordinator, Coalition for Health Research & Development (CHReaD)
- A critical and proven component that will accelerate the attainment of UHC and its benefits to the population is investment in health research and development (R&D).
- More than ever before, Kenya and other African countries are faced with the increasing threats of current, emerging and re-emerging pandemics.
- Across the world, research and development has been the bedrock of progress in the attainment of health for all.
The Kenya government has identified Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as one of its big four priority agenda by President Uhuru Kenyatta, with an aspiration that all the citizens will be able to benefit from a single unified health benefits package without the risk of financial ruin.
To fast track the implementation of this aspiration, the President recently launched the national healthcare coverage policy 2020-2030 with a commitment by the government to spread the benefits of UHC across the country. This is indeed good news for the majority of poor Kenyans struggling to access quality but affordable healthcare.
A critical and proven component that will accelerate the attainment of UHC and its benefits to the population is an investment in health research and development (R&D). Health Research and Development is critical in addressing the challenges currently facing Kenya and other African Countries in the attainment of UHC.
More than ever before, Kenya and other African countries are faced with the increasing threats of current, emerging and re-emerging pandemics. The latest pandemic to rear its ugly head is the Covid-19 pandemic which has thrown global health systems into a spin as countries grapple to contain the pandemic and its devastating effects.
This has seen an increase in demand for Health R&D for effective and fit-for-purpose medical products, including vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices. It follows then that an increase in domestic investment in health research and development guarantees solutions that reflect and address a country’s most urgent health needs.
According to research released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021, despite tremendous progress in global health wellbeing, millions of people still suffer or die globally each year because countries do not have the right and affordable technologies to combat many long-standing health challenges.
Across the world, research and development have been the bedrock of progress in the attainment of health for all. Technologies developed through research have improved the life expectancy of those living with HIV/AIDS, driven remarkable declines in child mortality, and nearly eradicated polio.
Health research is also an outcome multiplier. It not only saves and improves lives, but it also drives economic growth, saves costs, and improves health security. There are Lifesaving vaccines available because of investment in R&D, advances in surgery and medicine in general.
Countries like Ireland are reaping big socioeconomic benefits as a result of R&D with the investment in the pharmaceutical industry.
To its credit, the Government of Kenya has demonstrated a great deal of commitment to Health Research and Development, passing several policies and strategies in recent years aimed at bolstering the country’s innovation agenda.
Apart from the national constitution which provides an overarching legal framework to ensure a comprehensive, rights-based approach to the delivery of health services and protects intellectual property rights to stimulate product development, there are other accompanying policies, commitments and policies—both regional and international—to increase funding for research and development activities.
On health financing, the Kenya Science Technology and Innovation Act 2013 mandated a 2 per cent allocation of Gross Domestic Product, provided by the Treasury every financial year to research and development.
In addition, the Health Act of 2017 mandates the National Research Fund (NRF) to allocate at least 30 per cent of its funding into Health Research Development and Innovation (RD&I).
According to a study conducted by PATH, between 2017 and 2020, NRF allocated at most 20 per cent of its funding to the health sector. In absolute amounts, the level of funding eventually allocated for health RD&I was 80 per cent less than the committed quantum of resources for health RD&I.
Despite the government’s support for health research and development, many challenges still remain, and if not well addressed, might affect the full implementation and roll of UHC in the country.
For a start, the implementation of important health research and development-related policies and statutes has been slow, while actual funding and budgetary allocation remains a fraction, about 0.8per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
There is also lack of accountability, monitoring and evaluation mechanism by which to track the government’s commitment to health research and development. This makes it difficult to set clear objectives and measure the overall impact of funding health research and development.
The lack of an accountability mechanism ultimately affects the implementation of some of the critical initiatives meant to combat current and emerging pandemics in the health sector in the country.
Increased transparency and policy implementation will make the health research and development system easier to navigate, enabling researchers to spend more time focusing on innovations for health impact.
There is also a need by the Government to support structures and policies that honour global and continental commitments on the financing of health research and innovation.
And most important is the need to increase funding and budgetary support for health research and development, whilst installing a transparent monitoring and evaluation system to track progress and implementation.
Maureen is the Project Coordinator for The Advocacy Coalition for Health Research and Development (CHReaD).
E mail: [email protected].