EDITORIAL: Punish doctors in fake deals with foreigners

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Kenyans are increasingly seeking specialised treatment abroad because of superior medical care and comparatively affordable costs in some of the foreign destinations. At the back of this is the concern that the country lacks sufficient medical facilities to handle large numbers of patients or the competence to manage some delicate conditions. The Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital are the main public health facilities providing quality cancer treatment but they cannot cope with the high number of patients. It takes months for a cancer patient to get chemotherapy.

In recent times, the national and county governments have made attempts to equip the former provincial hospitals – now level five – to offer such specialised treatment, but the equipment and personnel are insufficient. It is not lost that part of the reason the doctors are striking is scarcity of medical facilities and resources. The obtaining scenario has created demand for foreign medical care. However, in itself this has spawned sneaky dealings. Some doctors have formed cartels that work in cahoots with foreign hospitals where they refer patients for supposed specialised treatment even for ailments that can be treated locally – and get a cut. This causes much pain and misery to families. Not only are the trips expensive, but in cases where the disease is at advanced stage, little gets done. It is a case of double tragedy.

New regulations published by Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu this week seek precisely to cure this fraud. It is a drain to households and the national economy. For the perpetrators – doctors practising at their clinics or those who organise the increasingly frequent medical camps – it is unprofessional and exploitative. Together with the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, the minister must rein in the rogue doctors. It is imperative to sensitise the citizens against the fraudsters, but most importantly, we need well-thought-out means to identify and sanction the culprits.

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