To achieve universal healthcare, Kenya must invest more in its nurses

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School of Nursing and Midwifery, East Africa


Nurses in Kenya are threatening to strike, protesting that the government had failed to increase their salaries in spite of an agreement which ended a five-month strike last year. If they strike this would be the second time in two years and it could create another public health crisis because of the huge role that nurses play.

Kenya’s almost 16,500 nurses work across all levels of health care; from primary care dispensaries and clinics to major hospitals. In some settings they may be the highest qualified, or only health professional, there. This means they provide essential public health prevention, health treatment and emergency services.

My colleagues and I put together a report for the recent world innovation summit for health. We worked with a team of experts to review global evidence and explain why to quickly, and cost-effectively, expand universal health coverage, there must be proper investment in nurses.

Nearly one billion people around the world can’t access or afford basic health care. At about 21 million strong, nurses make up half of the health workforce. If they are properly resourced and empowered, they could help to quickly spread universal health care, expanding services to under-served communities.

One of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “four pillars” is universal health care. Ksh44.6 billion (about USD$420million) was allocated into the sector so that all Kenyans could have access to critical health care services.

But unless proper investment is made in the workforce, it won’t work. While increasing allowances is important, nurses must be empowered to reach their full potential. Also worrying is the recent redrafting of the Kenyan Health Act which limits the leadership potential and opportunities for nurses within the public health system.


The Conversation

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.