It began with my husband, who had kidney failure. His insurance ran out and we eventually found ourselves at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). He was in dire need of dialysis. But for six hours we sat at the casualty waiting and he was not attended to. He died right there. That was the kind of treatment those without money got.
I buried him and accepted that I was a widow raising my two daughters alone. Five months later I was back at Kenyatta. Out of the blue, my brother had developed a cold, but by nightfall he was having difficulties breathing.
He was admitted to Metropolitan Hospital but they said he needed to be in an ICU. One private hospital asked for Sh600,000 to admit him and another one wanted Sh550,000. So, once again, it was Kenyatta, and14 hours at the casualty department.
He was gasping for air and finally went into a coma as we watched. He needed life support but we could not get a bed in the ICU until two days later.
For days we could not get a diagnosis. In fact, the more we asked for one, the frostier the relationship between us and the care providers became. They eventually removed him from life support and dumped him in the wards.
I pleaded with the CEO, but unfortunately my brother was never to go back to the ICU. I wrote to the government, demanding to know the rights of the patient. We had been treated badly, but I realised that it was not just my brother. It was the whole system.
Nobody takes responsibility, nobody cares. I was devastated and angry. I had come face to face with the full horrors of the public health system and I refused to accept it. I quit running my human resources consultancy and began speaking about patient rights to anyone who would listen.
Gradually, several people came out to tell their own horror stories. Four years ago, we registered MorrisMoses Foundation, a patientsâ€™ rights organisation with the tag line â€œSilent No More.â€
We encountered a lot of hostility from the government and the medical community. They used to call me a noisemaker, doctor-basher, and all manner of names, and send all kinds of threats. I refused to give up and they realised that I was not going anywhere. I would always tell doctors, â€œI shall never be a doctor, but you will be a patient some day. So ask yourself how you want to be treated.â€
At a hospital like KNH, I was persona non grata. The guards would turn me away. But the new CEO is different and today we are doing a lot of work with the hospital. For example, there is a patient affairs office that is now handling grievances.
We want to bring patient-centred care in all hospitals. We are doing it in a subtle way, first by helping with the infrastructure and facilities at public hospitals, but ultimately this is going to help the patients.
We just came back from a retreat where we were working with doctors, the Law Society of Kenya, and the government to draft a patient rights charter. This will help patients sue hospitals.
It is enshrined in the Constitution in Article 43 that every person has a right to the highest attainable standard of healthcare. All of us are entitled to emergency treatment and no hospital is allowed to turn you away.
They need to accept you, stabilise you, then transfer you. So it is up to the government to set up a kitty to protect private hospitals because they are in business.
We also want the Kenya Medical Practitioners Board to be given teeth. Since 1978, they have only handled 500 cases, but they were not discussed in public, so it is not clear how they were concluded.
We need a body that is open to the public so that we can hold them accountable, just like lawyers.
We also need the support of the Chief Justice to set up a medical court. Many people are reluctant to take their cases to the medical board because they do not think they would get justice.
So far we have distributed the patientsâ€™ rights document in Kisumu, Kisii, and Meru and have translated it into 12 local languages. We still need people to help us translate it into other languages. We are hoping to partner with FM radio stations to educate Kenyans on their rights.
I think that the only thing that equalises us is illness and death. You have little say in what happens when you die but before you fall ill, you can be involved in how you want to be treated. I believe that in the next five years, we shall start seeing big changes in our health care system.
Donâ€™t wait for money
My organisation is still small but it has a wide reach. We rely on donors and well-wishers to maintain our activities, and it has not been easy but when you have a clear vision, you do not need money to start. We also visit schools all over the country to tell students that medicine is a vocation, like priesthood.
But what are good doctors without proper working conditions, good pay and infrastructure with which to do their work?
We are all potential guests of public hospitals. I never thought I would go to a public hospital, but if you are in a car accident and the police find you unconscious, you will find yourself at Kenyatta before your relatives find you. By the time your family finds you or somebody discovers that you have an AAR card, you could be dead.
If I do not talk about this, I would get ill or die. Even when the insults, threats, and dirty emails came, I had no fear. Even if you kill me, you would only be killing the messenger; the message would remain.-Nation