This is close to home and should come as an open letter to Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga, a man voters love so much that he has won three elections in two election cycles.
It may sound personal, but it is not – this is a cry from the heart for the voiceless in a community where people can face severe consequences for not registering as voters, but can easily drop dead on the way to the polling booth for lack of medical care.
A few weeks ago, when the electoral agency was conducting mass voter registration, the unbeatable Siaya governor said that those without voters’ cards would be denied medical care in the county’s health facilities.
Ten days after the end of the voter registration exercise, our reporter, Olivia Odhiambo, filed a story stating that in November 2021, Siaya County Referral Hospital registered an unprecedented 49 deaths in two weeks.
These deaths would have gone unnoticed had it not emerged that they occurred within a short period, or had equal rights activists not raised their voices and forced the County Assembly’s Health Committee to investigate.
The committee summoned the hospital’s medical superintendent, who, in many words, said that the referral hospital was overwhelmed. “We have many cases of self-referral coming to the hospital. Some of the patients come when they are critically ill and they die, sometimes before we even attend to them,” he said.
What he did not say, and what he and Governor Rasanga and all his appointees know, is that patients visit the referral hospital because they cannot get services in health centres and sub-county hospitals.
That is why, when Rasanga said that those who had not registered as voters would be denied medical services, people asked if they could be denied what did not exist.
Healthcare system in Siaya has collapsed. It is not there. It just does not exist in any of the sub-county hospitals or health centres. From Ambira to Ukwala, Uyawi, Yala, Sigomre, Rwambwa, Madiany, Got Agulu, Bondo to Akala that was recently upgraded from a dispensary for the purposes of revenue collection, there is no healthcare worth its name.
On Friday, it was reported that Siaya County had met the World Health Organisation’s requirement of having health facilities within a distance of five kilometres. The Health executive hailed that imagined achievement, but it is common knowledge that healthcare provision is much more than brick and mortar.
For instance, the governor constructed what is touted as a blood bank within the larger compound of the referral hospital, but several months after its photos were splashed on the county’s social media pages, it is still not operational—because it does not have water and electricity connections.
Yes, buildings are there and some are not open, but those that are open lack the most basic medical equipment such as surgical gloves, and, wait for it, thermometers and syringes. Clinical officers do not have even stethoscopes.
This is not hyperbole. It is a fact and I am a living witness. In many instances, patients have to buy surgical gloves from hospital staff should they be needed when they are being examined. The staff have not pilfered what has been supplied by the county or national government. They buy the gloves for themselves, and have to get their money back.
It would be a lie to say that the governor does not know that these health facilities do not have even painkillers. He is aware, for, he keeps shuffling people in the healthcare services, but things keep going south. The Health Committee is aware of the problems residents face, but only act, halfheartedly, when equal rights activists complain like it happened over the 49 deaths.
While it is true that many of Kenya’s health care workers are demoralised, those working for Siaya County have lost hope of saving lives, and lack even the motivation. Thus, they find solace in their mobile phones, and their eyes would be glued to their phone screens while a patient is talking to them. After all, how will they help even after listening yet they lack drugs and equipment?
Then, Siaya does not have many well-equipped private health facilities, and the few that exist, end up referring patients to the public facilities where they can suffer some more – or die while holding their voters’ cards.
So Mr Rasanga, while there is no other election you need to win, you must get you act together and save the lives of Siaya residents, registered voters or not. The county’s deplorable state of healthcare is not what my grandfather envisioned when he instructed that Siaya district headquarters not be built in our village but in Siaya town because your father had so much unused land there!