SEATTLE, Washington — The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3 aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages” by 2030. The U.N. reported that, in 2020, approximately 70 countries were facing moderate to severe COVID-19 disruptions in healthcare, reversing decades of healthcare improvements. Research showed that if the decline continued, between 9.8% and 44.8% of children younger than five-years-old could lose their lives. Additionally, 8.3% to 38.6% of women could die during childbirth each month globally for a duration of six months. Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly at risk. Because of the travel restrictions, inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa suffer from reduced access to healthcare services and nutritious diets. Other challenges, such as fear of contracting the virus at healthcare facilities and overwhelmed healthcare workers, have further downscaled the progress of SDG goal 3 in Kenya.
Pre-COVID Trends in Kenya
In 2018, CDC documented having supported 630,000 HIV patients with antiretrovirals in Kenya with 92% of them attaining viral suppression. Of the pregnant women who tested positive, 99% received ART. This prevented infection to their babies during childbirth. More than 160,000 men underwent voluntary medical circumcision, which is a preventive measure against HIV infection.
The U.N. in Kenya reported that 82% of infants had been fully immunized by 2019, compared to 79% in 2017. So far, 16 of Kenya’s 47 counties had received “maternal and infant young child nutritional education” across 125 community units. Around 68% of the targeted population of women received these nutritional services. At least 400,000 youths received HIV/AIDS and STI prevention and treatment interventions. As a result, there was a 14% reduction in new HIV infections between 2016 and 2018. In 2019, The U.N. distributed $5 million worth of contraceptives to all 47 counties, reaching 1.5 million new users.
Trends in Kenya During COVDI-19
The 2020 updates on SDG goal 3 in Kenya were dire. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Naomi Gitonga, who is an MCH nurse at a dispensary in Nairobi, noticed that mothers and children under five had been missing out on their clinical visits and vaccination schedules. She reported that although some mothers travel far to reach the dispensary, adherence is usually high. However, in the face of COVID-19, some had defaulted. They would miss out on critical prenatal and postnatal care, including iron and folate supplements which are essential to the growth of the unborn baby as well as their own health.
As of 2018, the Tuberculosis incidence rate in Kenya was 292 per 100,000 people. With disruptions in healthcare, children are at increased risk of contracting such preventable diseases. In addition, COVID-19 has impacted health outcomes for people with HIV/AIDS, malaria and neglected tropical diseases.
Boosting the System
Kenya’s Vision 2030 includes the attainment of universal healthcare. As a member country of the U.N., the Kenyan Government is dedicated to aligning its development goals to those of the U.N. During the COVID-19 emergency and in line with the updates on SDG goal 3 in Kenya, The Kenyan government collaborated with various bodies to respond to the healthcare situation.
In 2018, The World Bank funded Kenya’s Transforming Health System for Universal Care (THS-UC) to improve primary healthcare services across the country and drive universal health coverage. The U.N. deployed $45 million and 150 U.N. staff to Kenya to combat COVID-19 in 2020. The Irish Government also stepped in to boost local community efforts in curbing the virus in Kenya,
In the same year, UNFPA, This-Ability, Kenya Red Cross and the Ministry of Public Service and Gender collaborated to provide “dignity kits” to women, girls and boys in vulnerable areas in the country. The kits consist of personal hygiene items such as soap and sanitary towels (for females) and safety items such as flashlights.
The Need for Healthcare Workers
Kenya continues to provide MCH services free of charge at public health facilities, which The World Bank foresees as a step towards equitable healthcare. The U.N. estimated that globally, 18 million more health workers are needed to meet the SDG 3. Naomi Gitonga also highlighted the need for more staff and the negative impact healthcare workers’ strikes have had on healthcare.
In May 2020, health workers threatened to strike, citing inadequate COVID-19 welfare and protection. The Government intervened through dialogue with the health workers’ union and took steps to provide fair remuneration. In addition, it launched a call center the following month to offer psychosocial support to health workers. World Vision also contributed Kshs 50 million worth of Personal Protection Equipment. USAID deployed $500,000 to train more health workers, adding to an equivalent amount the agency had committed toward COVID-19 relief in the country.
Through collaboration and the heroic efforts of health workers such as Naomi Gitonga, there is hope for more promising updates on SDG goal 3 in Kenya.
– Beth Warūgūrū Hinga