Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology through its Digital Health Applied Research Centre (DHARC), has taken a significant step towards improving healthcare access and quality in Kenya.
The launch of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) tracker, August 22, 2023, is an important milestone that aims to integrate diagnostic data into decision-making processes, ultimately enhancing the primary care services offered.
The pilot phase of the project covered several counties in Kenya, including Nyeri, Kisumu, Kilifi, and Nakuru, encompassing a total of 223 medical facilities. This initial implementation phase is a crucial testing ground to evaluate the effectiveness and practicality of the UHC tracker.
The project’s funding from the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and support from the Ministry of Health highlight the collaborative effort involved in making this initiative a reality.
DHARC developed a diagnostic data collection platform organized into four main categories: Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health (RMNCH); Communicable Diseases; Non-Communicable Diseases; and Service Capacity and Access. These are the same indicators the World Health Organisation uses to determine the level of equity and coverage of health services in Countries.
Dr. Patrick Amoth, Ag. Director General of the Ministry of Health, praised the efforts of DHARC and encouraged the four counties involved in the platform to not only utilize it for better decision-making but also to leverage it as an advocacy tool for resource mobilization.
“The fact that the platform emphasizes data from level 2 and 3 facilities is particularly important. Historically, these facilities have been underserved, and having diagnostic services at these levels can lessen the healthcare burden on higher-level facilities, such as level 4, 5 and 6,” said Dr. Amoth.
Dr. Amoth further urged the counties to leverage on the platform and digital health services to recognize their strengths as well as to identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. By doing so, the Director General is confident, the overall quality of primary care services will be enhanced, contributing to the achievement of universal health coverage.
The Principal Investigator at DHARC, Prof. Simon Karanja, highlighted the necessity for a fundamental shift in healthcare delivery in the country, emphasizing on the need to invest more in diagnostic services, recognizing their pivotal role in comprehensive healthcare.
He was hopeful, the dashboard developed by DHARC will be embraced by other counties across the country. Prof Karanja further envisions this platform as not only a research and policy hub but also, a collaborative space for policymakers, public health experts and communities to build a robust data foundation for diagnostics.
“This initiative has the potential to drive positive change in the healthcare landscape of Kenya, offering better-informed decisions and improved access to essential medical services driving significant policy changes in the direction of achieving UHC” said Prof Karanja.
FIND Kenya’s Executive Director, Prof. Joseph Mathu Ndung’u, echoed the sentiments, urging the Ministry of Health and the counties to view the UHC Tracker as a valuable asset that can promote equitable access to diagnostic services. He emphasized that the platform’s capability to identify gaps in the health system is crucial for targeted improvements.
JKUAT Principal, College of Health Sciences, Dr. Reuben Thuo, and a member of the DHARC team, outlined the college’s significant gains from the project, stating that the process has provided valuable insights into the diagnostic and health landscapes of the four counties involved.
Dr. Thuo was optimistic that the utilization of universal diagnostic tracer indicators will enable the tracking of changes in the healthcare landscape over time, saying the monitoring mechanism will facilitate assessment of progress towards the ultimate goal of achieving universal health coverage.
According to the Kilifi, Nyeri, Kisumu and Nakuru County Directors of Health, the launch of the UHC Tracker marks a pivotal moment in Kenya’s healthcare journey, showcasing collaborative efforts to enhance data-driven decision-making, healthcare access, and the overall quality of medical services provided.
Led by Prof. Karanja, the project was executed by a cohort of multidisciplinary researchers, featuring Dr. Jane Aduda, Dr. Reuben Thuo, Prof. Fred Wamunyokoli, Prof. Gideon Kikuvi, Mr. Henry Kissinger, Dr. Joseph Matheri, Dr. Susan Mambo, Ms. Esther Gichaiya, Dr. Joseph Machua, Dr. David Kamau, Dr. Susan Mwelu, Mr. Philip Oyier, and Mr. Daniel Otieno.