Kenya is plagued by communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases, like COVID-19, diabetes HIV, malaria, etc. But do we have a functional emergency care system or even a contact number? How long can it take an ambulance to reach your home in case of an emergency? How reliable are the government emergency services in your area? In Kenya there is a scarcity of ambulances, a lack of well-connected emergency services and the available service providers are expensive and very unreliable. Access to emergency services is the first step to better health care, and the state of emergency services in Kenya needs immediate improvement.
The scarcity of emergency services in Kenya has negatively affected lifesaving activities both in urban areas and rural areas. In Nairobi, getting an ambulance service is the more difficult thing to do; it takes 30 minutes to order food from a hotel on Mombasa Road to Umoja (8 Kilometers) but it takes more than 2 hours for an ambulance to come from Mama Lucy Hospital to Umoja (2 Kilometers). In Kenya, there are very few government ambulances available, poorly maintained, and managed, hence poor emergency service delivery.
Private emergency medical service providers play a limited role, too, as they are mostly in Nairobi and only serve patients who can afford to pay. Inequalities in emergency services due to affordability have negatively impacted patients, leading to worsening of the condition or even death. In Nairobi, you will wait for more than 2 hours before an ambulance arrives; in other towns, about 4 hours and the villages, don’t wait, sort yourself.
With the increased number of road accidents and chronic illness, as well as high levels of communicable diseases such as Covid-19, our emergency care providers and units, both private and government, should have seamless connectivity. The lack of well-connected emergency services that can easily be accessed by the population is the biggest challenge. In Kenya, 999, 911, or 112 emergency contact numbers are not functional. It is either the call won’t be picked or after picking the call they won’t be able to discharge an ambulance or paramedic since they are not even available.
The lack of a reliable localized central dispatch system makes it difficult to even access public or private emergency services. There might be companies with medical emergency services apps, but they are only found within Nairobi and for those who can pay an annual premium. These services are only available to less than 1 percent of Kenyans.
Increasing the number of ambulances while the communication system is still poor has done little impact in improving emergency service delivery. For example, counties that have an ambulance in every ward but only the chief and few leaders have the number to call for services have not helped. Diseases such as malaria, AIDS, and head injury need clinical emergency care; hence emergency service connectivity needs to be simplified for all.
Creating connectivity between health providers and consumers is the key to proper and reliable emergency health care. Simplicity in linkage will enable the community to be empowered to access emergency services anywhere, anytime in Kenya. Afya Bora Afrika is the future of simplicity in health accessibility.