NAIROBI — Inside a health facility located at the heart of a sprawling slum to the southeast of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, a female patient named Sharon listened keenly as a health worker dispensed drugs and offered advice on administration.
Sharon had visited the Soweto hospital to receive treatment after home remedies failed to offer relief to her ailment. She left the facility satisfied with the services and even more pleased as she did not encounter out-of-pocket health expenses.
“Having this hospital has been great for us because the services are free. That is such a reprieve for people like me who have very little to spend on medical expenses,” said Sharon who preferred to conceal her second name.
In August 2020, the national government embarked on a mission to put up 24 health facilities in the informal settlements within Nairobi metropolitan area.
The project is envisaged to bring primary health care closer to citizens and relieve pressure off three major hospitals which handle bulk cases from Nairobi and adjoining satellite towns. To date, 19 out of the 24 hospitals have been completed.
Ten of the commissioned hospitals are categorized as level 2, which means they are headed by a clinical officer and offer curative, preventive, laboratory, and health education services.
The rest are Level 3 health facilities run by at least a single doctor and offer more specialized services.
The new facilities are being viewed by slum dwellers as a panacea to the challenge of accessing health care that has for too long eluded them.
“In the past, when I would get sick, my first option would be Kenyatta (the largest public referral hospital in the country). If I am too weak to go there, I simply buy medication off the counter at a pharmacy,” said Sharon.
“But now the new hospital is much nearer to me and with good doctors.”
A health worker at the facility said that on average the hospital receives at least 200 patients daily. The health facility which has four doctors and eight nurses were among the first four to be commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta in February.
“This dispensary has bridged the access gap to routine vaccines and family planning services, we are seeing more and more people come to us for these services,” said a woman nurse who requested anonymity.
A report released by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) in April showed that more than 16,000 patients had visited the first four health centers commissioned by President Kenyatta.
Around 10 million Kenyans lived in slums based on the 2019 population census, with the capital holding the largest share of slum dwellers standing more than 1.5 million. In Kenya, as is worldwide, slums are deprived of good roads, hospitals, and sanitation facilities, influencing the overall quality of life.
In a deliberate attempt to improve the welfare of these slum citizens, the government has sunk over 100 boreholes since last year to guarantee access to clean drinking water to every citizen.
Elsewhere, a grassroots volunteer health worker Regina Nyambura and her colleague Juliana Kavita expressed their delight at a new dispensary facility opened in Kiamaiko, a densely populated slum located in the eastern parts of Nairobi.
“Some health conditions require patients to frequent hospitals and with the dispensary close to the people the challenge of distance has been resolved. In the past they would need to travel for a long time to public facilities,” said Nyambura.
“What we are imploring the government to do is fast track the rolling out of the Universal Health Care (UHC) program to the rest of the country. People are constantly making inquiries regarding this issue, granted we took their details for the registration of the program.”
Since its rollout in four counties in 2018, the Universal Health Care Pilot Program has heralded a change in access to healthcare services. There is a sustained momentum to ensure UHC is attained by 2022.
According to the budget policy report 2020, the government has reduced financial barriers by providing subsidies to poor Kenyans, with more than 181,315 people accessing health services under a health insurance subsidy program.
In addition, more than 42,000 elderly persons and persons with disabilities have been enrolled in the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) to enable them to access preventive and curative health services at an affordable cost.