These days, a pregnant woman in Kenya may feel a different kind of labor pains
when watching the news. In the past two weeks, we have witnessed the Bungoma
Hospital debacle and closing of Pumwani Maternity Hospital on national news. In
households across the country, people are voicing their frustrations at both health
care access and quality concerns particularly related to maternity care. So one
question remains- is it time, Kenya?
I have had the pleasure of hearing the Director General Vision 2030 Delivery
Secretariat, Mugo Kibati, speak on several occasions. He acknowledges the
challenge of getting people to envision that these changes—economic, social and
political– are not only possible, but they are coming. I must admit, when my
husband and I returned to Kenya in late 2011, our jaws dropped as we saw the
underpasses and overpasses, tunnels and the new Nairobi-Thika Highway. If you
had told us years ago that it was coming, we, like many Kenyans, would have said
“we’ll believe it when we see it.”
But isn’t that the challenge for us today? When it comes to high quality, patient-centered care– let’s say for maternity services given this week’s news’ headlines—
is not the greatest challenge to first envision what health care delivery and services
could look like? What it should look like?
Imagine a hospital where all staff, from the security guard and housekeeping to
nurses and physicians, smile and politely ask “How can I help you today?” When
every patient’s and concerned family members’ questions are answered and
concerns are addressed. When patients feel heard and understood, informed and
engaged in decisions related to their care, and confident they couldn’t get better
quality care anywhere else.
This is an exciting time for Kenya. With the devolution of health care delivery to
the county level, upheld by the social pillar of Kenya’s Vision 2030 on a national
level, the stage is set for comprehensive reform of health care services. Our job as
ordinary citizens is to envision, embrace and advocate for patient-centered care in
public and private hospitals across Kenya and to settle for nothing less. The time is
Dr. Stephanie Onguka is a Family Medicine consultant based in Nairobi, Kenya.