Make health funding an election issue

by Amref Health Africa

The campaign period, for all intents and purposes, is now in full gear ahead of the August 2022 General Election. And as is the norm, the media is devoting acres of space and airtime to politicians to reach out to the mass of voters with their campaign messages and party manifestos.

Amidst the din and cacophony of the political noise and melodrama, it is easy to get lost and not focus on the real issues affecting Kenyans that the politicians are expected to address in their political meetings and campaign manifestos.

Sadly, many of the politicians are focusing on populist and peripheral issues that are supposed to excite a mostly gullible populace incapable of questioning their real motives.

It is only the media, as a public watchdog, that can ask the politicians the hard questions about their party manifestos and if they have concrete plans and strategies to implement issues meant to improve the general wellbeing of the voters.

Access to affordable and quality health care in Kenya is still a challenge to majority poor and increasingly, the low-income earners who must juggle to make ends meet and face the demands for high cost of living.

It is said that only 1 percent of Kenyans are covered by contributory medical schemes meaning that most people will resort to seeking contributions from friends and family whenever there is a medical emergency, while others will self-medicate with dire consequences sometimes leading to death.

Therefore, health funding should form a major plank in the campaign and party manifestos of all the political parties in the country.

It is therefore expected that political parties and aspirants to political office make affordable health care and health financing a key deliverable of their manifestos.

To their credit, some of the presidential hopefuls have said that they will roll out a free health care system if elected into public office in the August elections.

Sadly, this has come out more like populist statements meant to endear voters to vote for them as neither of the candidates have backed their promises with facts and figures based on research, including an implementable strategy incorporating stakeholders from the health sector, universities and research institutions.

If Kenyans are to reap the full benefits of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) there must be a deliberate and conscious move by the government to invest in Health Research and Development (R&D).

This is because in addition to reducing morbidity and mortality levels, health R&D can inform and contribute to economic and social development, job creation, skilling of the workforce, fruitful regional collaboration reducing overreliance on imports, and in finding African solutions for African health challenges.

Kenyans would like to see political party manifestos that prioritize investments in health R&D to leverage substantial additional resources from potential investors and funders and to ensure that the R&D agenda is relevant to solving the country’s specific and most pressing health challenges.

The political party manifestos should suggest ways to create a more conducive and corroborative environment to attract health R&D investment from both the public and private sector, and how to develop regional Centres of Excellence for health R&D.

The manifestos should suggest ways to fund health research in our research institutions and universities, increasing incentives to perform high-quality research and improving the research infrastructure which remains, overall, severely deficient.

We need to see party manifestos laying emphasis on massive investment in health R&D to ensure that the country is prepared to deal with inevitable future pandemics clearly articulated to enable voters differentiate between political rhetoric and seriousness.

We would like to know the percentage of the GPD that political formations would dedicate to Health Research and Development, given that most governments in Africa are investing less than 2 percent of their GDP to health research and development.

The media should also take up its agenda-setting role and organize sector-specific debates between political parties on some of the key issues in their manifestos.

This way, Kenyans will be able to interrogate the real issues outside the charged political rallies where politicians can say anything without anyone holding them to account.

Ultimately, there is need for the politicians to track and deliver on the promises made in their manifestos.

Muthoni Ngure is the Communication and Technical Advisor for The Advocacy Coalition for Health Research and Development (CHReaD)

E mail: [email protected]

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