The Legio Maria Hospital that could be very transformative in health care in Kenya.

14 mins read

This really surprised me as an idea that could have huge implications on healthcare delivery from nonprofit and volunteer organizations in our country. Our healthcare service delivery system is a mess. If organizations including church groups want to invest in healthcare provision we should support them with everything.

The healthcare system in Kenya collapsed with devolution in 2010. That constitution stipulates that the county governments will be responsible for health care services in every part of the country.

The constitution however for obvious political controls that it faced never provided any guidelines on how health care services will be paid for by the Kenyan government. That job was left for parliament to address and they have completely ruined the system where now we have health care workers on strike every day.

Some money of the healthcare budget goes to the counties to pay the health providers including doctors and run health institutions but another chunk of the healthcare budget goes to the national government which only runs a few hospitals and healthcare facilities.

This is why when I saw a non-profit group put some interest in providing health care to Kenyans I felt very good about that and think it is an option Kenyans need to look at. It works everywhere else in the world including the developed countries like Canada, the US, UK and others.

A good piece of health care in these countries is provided by nonprofit and sometimes religious institutions. It works very well for them. Why not us in Kenya?

We can look at the Legio Maria option and effort and then explore different ways how health care services can be provided effectively to Kenyans.

Three years ago, a group of young people from the Legion Maria of African Mission Church ventured into unchartered waters.

They decided to ask the church’s leadership to build a hospital.

The idea was inspired by the hospitalisation of Pope Raphael Otieno Adika at M.P. Shah Hospital in Nairobi.

The project’s strategic manager George William said: “We decided to construct a mission hospital and that is why we went on and hired a consultant to do a feasibility study so that we could build a facility like no other.”

And on Saturday last week, they kick-started the journey by laying the foundation stone for St Mary’s Legion Maria Mission Hospital in a colorful ceremony presided over by Pope Adika.

For a long time, people believed that Legion Maria adherents did not go to the hospital or seek medical care and that instead, they depended on prayers or spiritual water for healing, earning them the tag of a ‘cult’.

They have also been accused by authorities of preventing their children from going to school and not allowing them to get modern medical care and some vaccines.

To debunk the myth, the church is building a Sh 200 million Level Four hospital in Marera, Kisumu West, where members of the church and non-members can get medical care.

”The project has four phases and will take three years to complete”, said Mr. Paul Opondo, the contractor working with Cilneod Kenya Limited.

The hospital will be a three-story 70-bed building, but in the first phase, they are putting up a community health centre, Mr. Opondo said.

“This will be a simple structure to roll out the project comprising a pharmacy, consultancy room, waiting area, and examination rooms,” he said.

The second phase will be setting up an outpatient hospital, female and male wards, a pharmacy, and a restaurant. In the third phase, they will set up an accident and emergency unit and maternity and pediatrics wards, and dental, optical, and gynecology units.

Last phase

In the last phase, they will set up a radiology unit, including X-ray, cardiology, MRI, CT Scan, and laundry sections.

”The issue of health is important for the church and the public,” said Archbishop Peter Onyango Abuto, the Legion Maria administrative secretary.

“This is an issue that made our founder father brush shoulders with the colonialists, who felt that we were against everything their administration was pushing,” Archbishop Abuto said.

“We had instances where people were concerned that patients could be removed from hospitals in order to attend church and be healed through prayer.”

The church has been fighting off claims that its members do not go to the hospital when they fall ill.

Church leaders insist that the founder, Simeo Melkio Ondeto, himself was treated in hospital when he was allegedly poisoned.

He is said to have been at the forefront of teaching people suffering from HIV and syphilis that they had to go to the hospital for treatment.

Pope Timothy Atila is also said to have gone to hospital often and even died in a health facility, as did Pope Chiaji Lawrence.

“We know that we are prayerful, but there are diseases that no matter how prayerful we are, require physicians. What the Pope is doing today is making it clear that we support health institutions, and that is why we are building this hospital in line with vision 2030 and the Big Four agenda,” Archbishop Abuto said.

He said they were impressed with M.P. Shah Hospital, which they said occupies a small space but offers excellent services.

The project started with a contribution of Sh8 million from congregants, but church leaders plan to work with the county government and like-minded non-governmental organizations to raise more money to complete it.

They are starting small but will complete the project and change the public’s perception of the church, said Bishop Wycliffe Nyaperah of Lugari, the director of youth affairs.

“This was the brainchild of the youth in this church. We are only fulfilling the prophecy of our founding father, who believed that it was the coming generations who would build this church,” Bishop Nyaperah said.

The project is good for the community, said Pope Adika.

“With time, the project will pick up, I am very certain. Many people will be brought here for treatment,” he said.

He asked national government officials to ensure the project is protected.

He also hinted that the church may go further and build a home for orphans in the future.

The area chiefs and the ward administrator asked the contractor to hire locals for unskilled jobs.

The church also asked the county government to include the hospital in the technical working group so that they can benefit from initiatives surrounding health.

There are a lot of good things in this effort. One, they are laying the work on the ground as we speak. It is not just talk. They are looking to work with other medical institutions like M.P Shah Hospital which already has some projects on the ground where they work.

I have been doing some work with my nephew, a pharmacist in Kenya in one of those big hospitals and he tells me medical investments in areas like clean pharmacy setups in Kenya are important and he asks me why I cannot be able to get meds like anti-biotics from Canada to Kenya.

Strangely, it is not difficult and they give you the best meds but it has to be done by a pharmacist to a pharmacist between Kenya and Canada. That is very doable.

The one big thing Kenya needs to explore is mobile health programs. It will save a lot of lives of our fellow citizens and a lot of money from the Treasury.

Phase one is simple. You set up health trailers to be stationed in various parts of the country and people go there to get medical help instead of traveling all over the place to get to the hospitals.

If this is worked between the health care providers, the county governments, and the Ministry of Health as well as local communities this will hit the ground running. People need healthcare and the closer they can get it to their doorsteps the better.

Phase Two is even better. We get out health care workers on motorbikes with their bag of medical supplies, equipment, and everything they need for diagnosis and to help people.

So you have diarrhea, God forbid it is from cholera, instead of travelling 50 kilometers to the hospital and spreading your infection to 100 other people, you call the medical center and a medic is on the bike to your place to give the treatment you need. We have cell phones and motorbikes now for God’s sake. let’s use that to provide good health care for Kenyans.

Look at Malaria. It is the easiest disease to diagnose. You just need a microscope and your eyes. You take the blood out of the victim’s finger and you will see the parasites running all over. You can kill all that with medication. And Malaria is a disease of time. If it takes you two days to have it detected, you are probably dead. The parasites can multiply to millions in your bloodstream in less than 24 hours.

And Kenyans take days if not weeks to have malaria treatment. That is too late. So we need to look at our healthcare with real ideas and proposals on the solutions, not just complaints.

One thing I thought the Kenyan government should do and with President Ruto in the US now this could be done but it is not in the realms of Ruto government thinking, so there is no need to bother with it.

But at some point, Kenya will have to figure out how to make the millions of Kenyan citizens living outside the country be able to put capital investments in the country like building a pharmacy, a motor vehicle manufacturing unit, and even simple things like a bakery and let the Kenyans abroad do that without paying import duties on capital investment.

In 2021 Kenyans abroad sent Shs 421 billion to the country just as gifts and support for their families. Imagine you allow them to invest with no punitive tax. That is when you will not need foreign debt to run the country. Kenyans can put trillions there in any one year. That will happen when they get that chance which they will.

Adongo Ogony is a Human Rights Activist and a Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada

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