Q&A With Health CS Mutahi Kagwe

December 6, 2021

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe answers questions from the public via Sunday Nation.

Thank you for making positive changes in blood transfusion services since you became Health Cabinet Secretary. What is the status of the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service Bill, 2020? Sanya Alpha Kennedy, Nakuru

The KNBTS Bill, 2020 is in the National Assembly. The process of its enactment has begun and it is our hope that it will be passed soon.

You promised to deal with the cartels at Afya House when you became Cabinet Secretary. A few months later, there was the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) scandal. Have you addressed the problem of cartels? Jotham Ndung’u, Nairobi

Reforming any institution is not an event but a process. There will always be resistance internally and externally. Kemsa is no exception. We have, however, been firm on this, as we envision Kemsa playing a critical role in achieving the Big Four Agenda target on universal health coverage. You may be aware that the government has appointed a new board. Restructuring the management is also underway. These changes will not end until Kemsa starts fulfilling its mandate for the benefit of all.

While there is a law that mandates hospitals to provide emergency medical attention, it is common knowledge one cannot be admitted without a substantial cash deposit at some private hospitals. What can be done to ensure hospitals prioritise lives, not money? Jotham Ndung’u, Nairobi

Hospitals should endeavour to offer care as a call of humanity. The right to emergency care is guaranteed in the Constitution. An emergency care policy has been developed and a steering committee gazetted. We hope to start implementing its recommendations soon.

Many countries are encouraging their citizens to have booster Covid-19 shots because the effectiveness of the initial jab wanes after six months. When will Kenya make boosters available? Graham Girvan, Kimilili

The focus of our current coronavirus plan is ensuring as many eligible people as possible get their first doses. This should also be the focus of the world so that there is vaccine equity and equality. We may consider boosters once we achieve this critical mass.

Is the Ministry of Health prepared for the court cases that will likely emanate from the decision it took to send more than half the Kemsa staff home? Andrew Maranga Ratemo, Nairobi

The government is focused on ensuring quality, affordable and accessible health care. Our institutions, including Kemsa, need to be reformed. Some people obviously are for the status quo. It is these people who may not want reforms. Kemsa is a corporate with an independent board. As noted earlier, the process is not easy and we expect challenges, including litigation. The Kemsa Board is ready for all eventualities.

The elderly, frontline workers and people with underlying conditions were the initial targets for vaccination even as the country continues to receive vaccine donations. How does the ministry plan to convince young Kenyans to have the shots following reports of apathy in this group? Komen Moris, Eldoret

Our vaccine deployment was graduated. It was based on the prevailing situation of available doses and priority groups. Like any smart plan, it was revised as the situation changed. The country now has an abundance of vaccines to achieve our target.

The Ministry of Health encourages anyone above 18 to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Those between 15 and 18 can also get the Pfizer vaccine as recommended by the World Health Organisation. There is evidence that vaccines play a significant role in reducing severe infection and creating herd immunity.

What happens to those who took the first dose of the Sputnik vaccine before the government banned its importation? Suppose there was a need for a Sputnik booster shot, will the government allow in some doses for those who had received it? Githuku Mungai, Nairobi

It was unfortunate that the process of importing the vaccine was irregular. Nonetheless, Kenyans who got the first shot of Sputnik did receive their second doses as recommended.

The messaging and advocacy for vaccination by the government has not been coherent. Every information and communication on vaccines comes from press conferences whose impact on the general population is limited. Had there been proper messaging and advocacy, I believe the 10 million mark would have been attained by now. How can the country achieve its vaccination targets when the government is not reaching out to Kenyans? Olwence Kingi, Malindi 

The government has a robust communication programme that targets specific audiences. The coronavirus vaccination communication strategy includes advocacy and social mobilisation with a healthy mix of multimedia activities.

Press conferences are a part of it. A lot of community engagement is on though it may not be highly publicised. We are engaging community and religious leaders as well.

One of the major challenges of curative care in Kenya is self-medication. This has become the norm, especially due to the mushrooming of drug stores in rural and urban centres, proliferation of counterfeits and the rising number of quacks. What is the government doing to address this menace? Dan Murugu, Nakuru City 

The government through the Pharmacy and Poisons Board conducts regular inspections to weed out quacks and illegal pharmacies or chemists. We have also developed policies that speak to anti-microbial resistance and are sensitising the public on the dangers of misusing medicine, and especially antibiotics, which are usually dispensed by some unscrupulous chemist owners.

However, it is worth noting that the government alone cannot succeed in stopping this bad behaviour. Everyone has a role to play, including the public who at all times must follow the laid down guidelines and report any criminal activities to relevant health and security agencies.

The Omicron variant of coronavirus is causing a worldwide scare. The United States, the United Kingdom and many countries, especially in Europe, are taking measures to restrict travel from certain countries. Rwanda, Angola and Mauritius have done the same by stopping flights from southern Africa. What measure is our government putting in place to ensure the new variant does not reach here? Franklin Musyoka, Mwea

Taking into consideration available evidence from across the planet, the Ministry of Health recommends continuation and even stepping up of the national accelerated programme to vaccinate 10 million Kenyans by the end of this year and more than 26 million by the end of 2022.

This is why I announced additional measures last month. We ask Kenyans to continue being vigilant by observing the public health measures of proper wearing of well-fitting masks, social distancing, handwashing with soap and the use of sanitiser. Ventilation of indoor spaces should be improved, avoid crowded spaces, closed areas and close contact.

We note that the Delta variant circulated and spread in Kenya during the lockdown and therefore there is need for all to be individually responsible in managing the spread of the disease, including the new variant, to avoid another lockdown.

Can Kenya fund its health system without depending on donors? If not, how long will it take and how much do we need as a country? Bramwell Wanzala, Eldoret

The government has steadily been increasing allocations to the sector as a way of moving towards self-reliance and universal health coverage. However, the government also has to address many other budgetary demands, hence the continued partnership with well-wishers to fund health programmes.

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