Debate and Deliberate for a Shared Vision of Health for All: Nairobi, Kenya

Debate and Deliberate for a Shared Vision of Health for All: Nairobi, Kenya

 {Photo credit: Anteneh Lemma/MSH}The Health for All Campaign in Kenya is hosting a series of debates on universal health coverage.Photo credit: Anteneh Lemma/MSH

“I wish I had called this event,” said Mr. Simone Ole Kirgotty, CEO of Kenyan National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). This came as a surprise to many since the CEO was bombarded with critical questions and comments about the activities of the organization he has been leading for the last two years. “If it was new for me to lead such a controversial organization, I would have run away after all these comments,” added Mr. Kirgotty cheerfully.

It was during a public debate in Nairobi, organized by the Health for All: Campaign for Universal Health Coverage in Africa (Health for All Campaign), that the CEO of Kenya NHIF made these remarks. The debate, entitled: “Improving Communications to Scale up Public Engagement with NHIF: Challenges and Prospects,” was part of a series of debates being conducted in seven counties in Kenya. As highlighted by Dr. Daraus Bukenya, Country Representative for MSH Kenya, the major objective of the debates is to get clarity on NHIF activities, to create a platform for community engagement, and to identify and put together recommendations to NHIF to work toward universal health coverage in Kenya. The first debate was held on November 17, 2014 in Nyeri.

At the event in Nairobi, activists and representatives from the media council confronted Mr. Kirgotty on the issues of transparency, efficiency, and corruption in NHIF, making strong, and even some fervent, statements.

Mr. Kirgotty mentioned that anyone who represents NHIF in such public events should have a thick skin. He proved he has one by responding to the questions rather calmly and relaxed. “We have changed!” said Mr. Kirgotty, acknowledging previous mismanagement allegations in his organization. He reminded participants about the increase in membership which, according to him, increased from 3.5 million to 4.7 million in the last two years. Mr. Kirgotty’s words were affirmed by Dr. Victor Ng’ani, who represented the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union. Ng’ani said that significant improvements have been recorded in public awareness and confidence ratings in the last two years.

The issue of improvement in public awareness was seriously challenged, however, by Victor Bwire, an eloquent media practitioner represented the Kenya Media Council. Bwire said he looked up the phrase “NHIF Kenya” on the internet just before he came to the event and found no positive result for more than four consecutive pages. “This tells everything,” said Bwire. He added that information is not a privilege citizens seek from NHIF but a right they demand from all public institutions including NHIF.

Mr. Kirgotty admitted a lot needs to be done to utilize media resources and provide information the public needs.

The Honorable Senator Mrs. Goldliver Omondi and Dr. Mwaura Waithaka from the Nairobi County government, both speaking about community engagement with NHIF, mentioned that there is lack of communication channels for the county to engage with NHIF. “I am the only senator participating in this partnership,” added Omondi ,and called for increased attention to women and people with disabilities.

As the debate comes to a conclusion, panelists and participants agreed on the need to acknowledge the improvements and implement reforms in governance, accessibility, and information sharing under NHIF. “I wish I had called this event,” said Mr. Kirgotty acknowledging the importance of such debates.

The Health for All Campaign in Kenya is conducting similar debates in Vihiga, Kitui, and Nakuru Counties. The ultimate objectives of these debates will be achieved when all stakeholders agree on the need to have similar engagements and actually take-up the initiative reaffirming their commitment to ensure the provision of information and Health for All. 

Photo slideshow: Health for All Kenya hosts UHC forums