Addressing the Question of Health through the Constitution

Kenya is a country not without its own pressing health crises. On the other hand, it’s also a country that boasts of a rich alternative medicine practice, coupled with that of conventional Western medical practices.

But health care is never enough. Thankfully, the new Kenyan constitution offers provisions in order to improve health care for Kenyans who need it the most – and we will discuss how so.

Article 43 of the Kenyan constitution (2010), states that every person has a right to healthcare services. Unfortunately, the realisation of this right has been hampered by the fact that medical services are not as developed as they should be. Kenya has a poor doctor to patient ratio. There are about 4,200 doctors serving a population of 42 million people. Kenya also imports most of the medicines and medical equipment needed. The constitution devolved the health responsibility to the counties. The county governments are yet to develop the capacity to adequately handle this function.

1. BEtter Access To Medical Practitioners

Traditional medicine practitioners have largely stepped in to fill the gap made by the unavailability of conventional medicine doctors. It has been estimated that there are about 40,000 traditional healers of one sort or another. These are under the Ministry of culture instead of the Ministry of Health as would be expected. The government is largely lax in monitoring the activities of these traditional healers which has led to the proliferation of a dubious kind referred to as ‘Mganga.’ It is common to see adverts promoting ‘Mganga’ services.

2. Improved Access To Medicine

Article 69 of the constitution has obligated the government to preserve indigenous knowledge systems that relate to the environment and biodiversity. Traditional healers depend on trees, shrubs and herbs as their sources of medicine. This provision ensures that the sources of traditional medicines are protected. Gazetted forests are protected by a state agency (Kenya Forest Service).

3. Easier Access To General Health Care

It is estimated that up to 70% of Kenyans rely on traditional medicine before going to a conventional medical facility when a condition deteriorates. The low number of medical facilities, and medical doctors coupled with poor infrastructure means that the local traditional healer is the first option.

The government has recognised this fact and put in place mechanisms to complement the efforts of traditional healers and medical practitioner. The community health workers training program is a good example. These are people who are trained in using a mix of traditional and conventional medicine while monitoring the progress of the patient.

4. Emphasis On A Bigger Role For Traditional Medicine To Play

With over 33,000 plant species and counting, Kenya is one of the most biodiverse countries in Africa. The full potential of this biodiversity in medicine is yet to be exploited. The government is looking to countries like China where traditional medicine is advanced for lessons on how to manage the traditional medical structure.

It can only be hoped that the right to quality health will be realised by 2030 as the government’s Vision 2030 has envisioned. For the sake of Kenya, let’s all work together to achieve them…there is yet time.