Thinkwell removing financial barriers to health services

Responding to Covid-19 in Kenya: Actions and Lessons

10 September 2020

Written by Leah Breen

In early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caught Kenya off guard, like it did every country. The novel virus meant that the government had to quickly develop their Covid-19 response plan and budget. In the face of the evolving pandemic, translating the plan into action has posed an array of challenges. The government has had to engage with a range of stakeholders on urgent response needs and find ways to best allocate scarce resources. At the same time, the government has had to identify local solutions to procure essential medical commodities and personal protective equipment in a competitive global market.

Around the world—in high- and low-income countries alike—coronavirus has exposed weaknesses in countries’ health systems. Kenya’s government knew that an effective pandemic response would have to strengthen key health system components, including financing, governance, human resources, clinical management, and information systems. Since Kenya devolved governance to its 47 counties in 2013, the government also knew that it needed a coordinated response at the county-level and between the counties and the national government. In March, the Council of Governors (CoG) established the Covid-19 Secretariat to manage this effort.

ThinkWell, through the Strategic Purchasing for Primary Health Care (SP4PHC) project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seconded a health economist, Boniface Mbuthia, and a public health specialist, Felix Murira, to offer short-term technical assistance to the Covid-19 Secretariat between May and July 2020. You can read their report on their engagement here. In July, at the CoG’s State of Devolution Address, the CoG’s chairman thanked ThinkWell for our support to the Covid-19 Secretariat.

Six months into Kenya’s fight against Covid-19, Boniface and Felix reflected on some of the lessons they’ve learned while working to curb the virus’s spread:

  • Data visualization and surveillance systems go hand-in-hand: During their work with the Covid-19 Secretariat, Boniface and Felix helped improve data visualization—ways to present information on the evolving pandemic with charts, graphs, and dashboards. Effective data tracking and visualization tools can help capture and represent surveillance data in a way that’s useful for decision-making. With stronger surveillance systems, outbreaks can be detected earlier. And good data visualization can enable the surveillance data to be interpreted accurately and used thoughtfully.
  • “Health is not just the absence of disease:” The pandemic has taught us that governments must examine what it really means to provide high-quality health care. Then, we should work backwards from that definition to ensure that the resources—medical, human, and financial—exist to provide care for all citizens. Since Kenya has a large informal economy, Boniface and Felix observed that many Kenyans lost work during the country’s lockdown. Since health affects all aspects of our lives, Felix believes that health systems also have a responsibility to protect people against financial hardships while they are receiving care.
  • Communication can strengthen community health: The pandemic revolutionized how the Ministry of Health (MoH) communicates with the public. Since mid-March, the MoH holds daily live briefings where either the minister or top health officials break down the latest data, describe new progress, and explain setbacks or challenges. The briefings are broadcasted across mainstream media, rural media outlets, and social media. Critically, Felix notes, the broadcasts are translated into local languages. These efforts, coupled by the work that community health volunteers and religious leaders are doing to reach everyone with accurate information about how to stay healthy, is transforming how the government harnesses communication strategies to promote positive health behaviors among its citizens.

In Kenya, “the Covid-19 pandemic has been a constant evolving journey” Boniface said. But Boniface and Felix are hopeful that this crisis has transformed how Kenya prioritizes health care and health systems—for the better.

Visit the SP4PHC Covid-19 page to find out more about our work.