At the Health docket, Mutahi Kagwe’s in-tray is full
If there is somebody who won’t have even a moment for relishing his new job, then that person is newly-appointed Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe.
In what is a case of being thrown into the deep end, Kagwe’s plate is overflowing.
And he must do better than his predecessor, Sicily Kariuki, who was clearly overwhelmed.
The immediate and most urgent task on his in-tray is the coronavirus. As the Health CS, he is charge of the coronavirus response committee formed by presidential Executive Order. This may occupy his working hours for the foreseeable future.
Kenyans had become increasingly exasperated that the government was showing gross insensitivity in the face of one of the biggest health crisis plaguing the world.
Matters came to a head last week when a Southern China Airlines flight landed in Nairobi from China.
The ensuing uproar showed clearly that if the government did not act, the populace would take matters into their own hands.
Kagwe might want to borrow a leaf on how other countries have responded to the novel coronavirus.
Recently, Israel turned back a South Korean airliner from Seoul, carrying more 200 people.
Only 15 Israelis were allowed to disembark, and were quarantined immediately. South Korea has reported 2,931 cases and 17 deaths, the highest toll outside China.
Turkey and Pakistan closed their borders with Iran, and suspended flights. Iran has diagnosed 43 cases, with 8 deaths, the highest in Middle East. Australia has banned all flights from Tehran, Iran’s capital.
Clearly, countries are taking zero chances, and thus to allow over 200 Chinese nationals to land at JKIA and go home is, to say the least, mind-boggling.
The risk of any coronavirus case in Kenya is getting Kenya Airways, and Kenyans, banned from world capitals.
Kagwe, therefore, must restore the confidence of Kenyans and the global community that the government is serious in keeping the virus at bay.
If a case of coronavirus is registered in Kenya, the CS will be dealing with completely new madness.
But even as he tackles the coronavirus emergency, there are other tasks that also cannot wait.
First is the blood crisis in Kenyan hospitals. Since the US government ended its assistance to the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services in September 2019, blood transfusion services have suffered a debilitating financial crunch.
There is no money to buy materials like gloves, blood bags, reagents, refreshments and fuel. The blood collection and testing services have ground to a halt, and the country’s blood banks are empty.
This is a crisis that cannot wait, as patients, including mothers giving birth, have either lost their lives or their babies due to lack of blood.
It is a matter of life and death, and it is inexplicable why Kagwe’s predecessor ignored this matter.
The other issue now coming to a head is reforming the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). The Fund has never settled, nor given its contributors any joy. It has simply been a conduit for looting by politically-correct individuals.
Indeed, the last CEO, Mr Geofrey Mwangi, and the finance director Wilbert Kurgat, were sacked and are facing corruption charges.
It is not very helpful that the new CS has voiced his support for raising NHIF contributions. This thinking that throwing more money at this corrupt behemoth is the way to go is the real problem.
Rather than gather the required political will to tackle the systemic problems at NHIF, more money is thrown at the organisation. It’s called escapism.
What is the quid pro quo to contributors for more money? Who is talking to contributors to find out whether they are happy with NHIF services?
Is it because it is a captive market of politically insignificant contributors that government finds it so easy to raise contributions without public participation?
The CS must have deep conversations with the Cabinet and NHIF Board over the future of the Fund.
Drastic reforms are necessary, not the normal tinkering around the edges that leaves the basic malformed structure in place. Raising contributions must be the last resort.
Kagwe had better have horned his swimming skills if he wants to make any impression on the challenges he’s been thrown into headfirst.—[email protected]