New Kenya Law Ensures Access to Health Services
August 3, 2017
Kenya’s recent passage of a new health sector law operationalizes and ensures important constitutional provisions for health services. The Health Act, 2017 formalizes collaboration between national and county governments, obliges Kenya to address the health needs of vulnerable groups, and mandates the provision of emergency and specialized care. In a progressive step, the law also ensures the provision of free maternity care, vaccinations for children under age five, and workplace breastfeeding facilities.
Kenya’s Health Act, 2017—signed into law by the president in June and officially published in July—legalizes the country’s Health Sector Inter-governmental Consultative Forum (HSICF). The HSICF—previously comprised of county executive committee members for health but replaced by county health directors under the act—has played a key consultation role since the onset of devolution, providing a forum for the two levels of government to regularly meet and jointly plan. It formalizes consultation between the national and county governments and represents a positive step in the country’s continued devolution.
The law also gives weight to some of the more aspirational health language in Kenya’s constitution. Specifically, it seeks to safeguard access to healthcare services for vulnerable groups by making clear the state’s obligation to provide these for women, the aged, persons with disabilities, children, youth, and members of minority or marginalized communities.
Similarly, the national government is now required to establish a national referral hospital in every county to increase access to specialized care. The act also instructs the national government to expand free maternity care and childhood immunizations by mandating funding for these services through ring-fenced, conditional grants—grants that are earmarked for a specific activity and must meet certain conditions. Employers and all formal workplaces will now be required to provide breastfeeding facilities to promote the well-being of infants, and health facilities must provide emergency care or face punitive measures.
To further regulate and reorganize Kenya’s health sector, the Health Act, 2017 establishes the Human Resources for Health Advisory Council and the Kenya Health Professions Oversight Authority. To safeguard health workers’ welfare, the advisory council will review and advise on policies, norms, and standards related to the deployment of healthcare staff. The authority will oversee healthcare professionals and regulatory bodies, including complaint resolution and the professional conduct of health staff.
The USAID-funded Health Policy Project (HPP), the Health Policy Plus (HP+) project’s predecessor, provided extensive technical assistance to Kenya’s Ministry of Health in the development of this law, facilitating advocacy and consensus-building efforts and providing guidance on linking the law with the Kenya Health Policy. Robinson Kahuthu, a senior policy advisor with HP+, previously with HPP, commented on the passage of the Health Act. “It is a good and quite progressive law, and we are proud to have been involved.” He added that both the Ministry of Health and county governments will require more partners to support implementation.