Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

The Entrepreneurial Landscape of Healthcare in Kenya

By Ruth Shalom Kinyua ’19.

Currently in my sophomore year and an international student from Nairobi, Kenya, I was drawn to The Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship’s programs focusing on entrepreneurship in the healthcare systems of developing countries. I was concerned about healthcare in Kenya, particularly because the public health system has had a complete meltdown with doctors going on strike over low pay and poor working conditions. Despite the government’s resolve to negotiate with the doctors to end the three-month strike, no compromise is yet to be reached. Not only has this caused widespread suffering and deaths nationwide, but it has also adversely affected medical students in local universities who are unable to complete practical lessons.

With these challenges in mind, I opted to undertake an independent research project examining the healthcare system in Kenya during the winter break. My primary objective was to outline the structural framework of the healthcare system in Kenya, the roles that key stakeholders play in integrating entrepreneurship into the healthcare system, and identify where trends for potential growth emerged. I examined major bodies in the public, private and non-profit sector, noting similar themes in the entrepreneurial landscape that are shared across sectors as well as the crucial gaps that need to be bridged in order for the system to advance. I took great pleasure in carrying out the research and fieldwork because it took me to various centers and institutions throughout Nairobi, allowing me to explore and learn about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city where I was raised.

The first major trend that surfaced through this project is the emphasis on mobile solutions in healthcare. This trend can partly be attributed to the success of M-Pesa, a world-leading mobile-money system in Kenya that has about 25 million users, and caters to roughly 75% of low income individuals living on less than $1.25 a day (1). The widespread use of mobile phones provides an opportune platform to reach and provide health solutions to rural and low-income populations that would otherwise be inaccessible. A second trend revealed through my research is a need to bridge the gap between the various stakeholders whose siloed activities hamper the overall progress that could be achieved through collaboration. Locally generated research and entrepreneurial activities are essential to development efforts yet institutionalized engagement and exchange of information that influences public policies to foster growth in the health sector remains elusive.

Lastly, with the poorly developed public health system being largely underfunded from the government, the potential of partnerships with institutions in the private sector hold tremendous opportunity to expand the system and advance the goal of universal health coverage. Roughly a quarter of Kenya’s health sector expenditure is currently being funded by foreign nations including US and China. There is clear reason for the government to adopt sustainable financing mechanisms that would enable the country to create sustainable health outcomes and help avoid situations such as the doctors’ strike that threatens to collapse the entire health system.

I view this independent research as a stepping-stone toward understanding and being further involved in the healthcare sector. I anticipate using my findings in future endeavors to improve healthcare systems either through research, consulting or policy making.

(1) Suri, Tavneet, and Billy Jack. “Reaching the Poor: Mobile Banking and Financial Inclusion.”Slate Magazine. N.p., 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2017