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KENYA: Strengthening health systems to improve access to health

By Maarten Brouwer

The Covid-19 crisis has taught us that the health challenges of today are increasingly international, multidimensional, and complex. Amongst other things, climate change, air quality, urbanization, mobility, population growth, and humanitarian crises are key factors behind global health challenges.

As these factors play out in sometimes different and sometimes comparable impacts in all countries, international collaboration is called for. It was the trigger for the Netherlands to recently publish its first Global Health Strategy, in which it recognizes the importance of strengthening health systems to improve access to primary healthcare. Efforts to strengthen primary healthcare are an efficient and effective strategy for a more equal society and a healthier population.

The essence is uniting the competencies of government, universities, the private sector, NGOs, and financial institutes as well as the pooling together of various goals, funds, risks, and responsibilities. This way, innovations are more likely to come about and bring Universal Health Coverage (UHC) closer to realization.

Globally, the pandemic revealed how partnerships can lead to innovative solutions. Some examples from the Netherlands are:  artificial intelligence experts supported governments in developing Covid-dashboards that helped predict and prevent outbreaks; at the Delft University of Technology a team of students developed a safe, low-cost and easy-to-manufacture mechanical ventilator; and at the Brainport Eindhoven, SARA Robotics developed a robot that provides companionship in elderly homes in lockdown.

So why do I raise this issue? Globally, about one-third of the population does not have access to essential health services. In Kenya, this percentage is close to 50 per cent. UHC, a stated goal by the Kenyan government, means that all people have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, and without financial hardship. Very often I hear Kenyans talking about the need for more and better access to health services, a formidable challenge.

This week a health sector trade mission from the Netherlands will visit Kenya to seek collaboration for tackling this challenge: between both countries, but more so between private sector companies in both countries. There are three central elements to this: access to high-quality health services, skilled health workers, and policy-makers that commit to invest in UHC. This mission aims to strengthen public and private sector alliances to achieve the SDG goals on health.

The upcoming mission can build on the longstanding support of the Netherlands to Kenya’s health ambitions. For instance, private collaboration with PharmAccess produced the SafeCare program which makes it possible to measure healthcare services against a set of internationally recognized standards. SafeCare benchmarking enables investors, insurers, patients, and donors to make informed, data-driven decisions.

Also, the PharmAccess’ Medical Credit Fund provides loans to SMEs in the health sector in Sub-Sahara Africa that previously had limited access to capital to improve or expand their services. Already, USD 100 million in loans has been committed to more than 1,800 companies. Lastly, Philips is widely known in Kenya to deliver highly valued equipment to many hospitals in Kenya through commercial partnerships with government and various health institutions across the country. Philips is in close collaboration with the Brainport  Eindhoven, a rich source of innovation to deliver even better equipment in the future. This exemplifies the Dutch Diamond Approach, in which science, private sector, government and civil society work closely together to bring the desired outputs about.

The Netherlands is an important partner in multilateral forums and is among the leading supporters to the WHO, UNFPA, GAVI and GFF. It is fair to say that the Netherlands is bilaterally and multilaterally already a strong partner for Kenya in the field of healthcare. Now, we aim to strengthen and deepen this partnership further.

The success story of the Dutch health system is based on universal access to care, solidarity through medical insurance, and high-quality healthcare services. The Kenyan Government has laid out ambitious plans to enhance its UHC agenda. Coupled with the conducive environment for innovations, research, and digitalization, Kenya is indeed tackling its health challenges. Yet, the large array of health challenges calls for a broad approach that focuses on strengthening these systems with support from various partners.

To achieve that, we believe that there is a need for a shift of mindsets to see the private sector as a co-investor and thought partner in the public health systems. To their benefit, Governments should relate to the private sector as to share knowledge and co-create as a means to unlocking innovation, building stronger African health systems and that deliver health for all.

Strengthening health systems to improve access to health is a shared goal of Kenya and the Netherlands. We like to live up to this challenge to make a difference together.

The writer is the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Kenya.


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