AS I SEE IT: A Kenyan Pensioner’s Experience of Universal Health Coverage in the COVID-19 Era

Categories: Featured and Opinion.

John is a 63-year-old retired civil servant living on a pension in his rural village. We follow a conversation that he has over the phone with his daughter who lives in the city.

John: Hello, hello, how are you?

Daughter: Hello Daddy, I’m good, what about you?

John: I am fine. I just came back from the private health clinic.

Daughter: Why, dad? You know there is COVID-19, you should not mix with crowds unnecessarily

John: It’s just that I felt a bit unwell and wanted to get my blood sugar and blood pressure taken. But I had to walk to the clinic, which is 8 km away.

Daughter: But that is far? What about the hospital which is nearer?

John: The main hospital is now focused on COVID-19 and not taking any other patients. And taxi fares have hiked since the lockdown started; so, I decided to walk, because I used the money that I had for my blood pressure medicine, and the other bit that’s left I’m saving for food.

Daughter: But you have your own blood sugar machine – why do you need to go to the clinic for that?

John: Oh yes! The glucose strips that you sent would have served me for a year, but I shared with your uncle Ray – he was also diagnosed with the same problem. I wish they were available here – but even if they were, they are not affordable on our pensions.

Daughter: Oh, sorry dad, I didn’t know the strips were finished, I will send you some through courier since we can’t travel there. I’ll buy for uncle Ray also. They sell 50 strips for $20 here.

John: You know aunty Aggie also retired from nursing, and she helps many people here in the village and at the local dispensary. I was thinking if only she had a blood pressure machine, many people here would not need to make the trips to the clinic or hospital.

Daughter: Oh yes, that actually makes sense… maybe you should talk to your local health authorities or make the suggestion at your next community meeting – who knows, it can become a reality …… anyway Dad I have to go…. I will let you know when I dispatch the parcel.

John: Bye dear, and thanks! We will wait for the blood sugar strips.

What we gather from the conversation:

  1. Many retired and older persons are home with chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes that need simple but regular monitoring. COVID-19 puts them at risk in several ways;
  2. Limited movement has made travel to health facilities difficult for management of chronic conditions,
  3. Related price hikes for public transport has made travel unaffordable,
  4. Many older persons are experiencing heightened levels of loneliness and isolation as their loved ones cannot visit them to protect them from further risk and exposure to coronavirus.
  5. The designated COVID-19 centres are no longer accessible to people whose mobility is limited access.

For me, this is what UHC looks like  for older persons:

Empowering older persons to self-care and monitor their health through enabling access to gadgets like blood pressure machines and glucometers. I picture each village equipped with at least one blood pressure machine and a glucometer that patients can access to monitor and manage their conditions and symptoms. 

This will avoid unnecessary hospital visits and exposure to other diseases like COVID-19, save the patients money and time, and free up the health facilities to attend to cases that cannot be managed from home.

What does Universal Health Coverage look for you?

Follow the hashtag #mypictureofUHC and share your story.