On the Threshold of National Change, a Conference in Kenya Inspires Health Workers

Mugo Kibati, Vision 2030 Secretariat, presents on day one of the conference. {Photo credit: MSH}Photo credit: MSH

Earlier this month, Kenya presidential candidate Ole Kiyapi was asked, during the country’s first ever televised presidential debate, what his plans were for the health sector. The former permanent secretary for the Ministry of Health replied without hesitating that he would emphasize strengthening leadership and management capacity in health workers. His response is indicative of the growing movement to build health workers’ capacity in Kenya, which led to the First National Conference on Health Leadership, Management and Governance this month.

Co-hosted by the Ministry of Medical Services and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, the conference was organized with the support of the USAID Leadership, Management & Sustainability Project in Kenya (LMS/Kenya), implemented by Management Sciences for Health.

The benchmark conference took place in Nairobi on January 29 – February 1, 2013. It was designed to recognize and publicize health systems management as a core component of better service delivery and to promote the professionalization of health leaders and managers in the private, faith-based and public sectors. The conference was organized at a critical moment in Kenya’s history. The 2010 Constitution, which will be fully implemented after the upcoming March 4 elections, mandates the devolution of governing structures including the nation’s health system. Not only will the two Ministries of Health be reintegrated into one, but health service delivery responsibilities will be handed over to 46 newly-formed county governments. During this transition period, strong leadership and management will be necessary to ensure a smooth change process and prevent any decline in health service delivery.

The keynote speech on the opening day of the four-day conference was delivered by Mugo Kibati, the Director General of Kenya’s far-reaching development plan, Vision 2030. He said that medical knowledge about how to save lives and improve health is not lacking in Kenya; rather what’s missing are the organizational and managerial mechanisms to make healthcare efficient, cost-effective, affordable and accessible. Emphasizing that strong leadership, management and governance skills are required to make changes at all levels of the health sector, Kibati called on conference participants to pitch the debate on big issues and consider questions such as “What does this mean for my organization or institution?”, “What does this mean for me as a leader?”, and “What does this mean for my country?”

To address these questions and rise to the country’s current challenges, the 296 conference attendees actively participated throughout the conference. They listened to 47 panelists or presenters share knowledge and expertise, took part in regional networking and strategizing meetings, and attended a variety of mini-workshops on setting priorities to achieve results, engaging stakeholders to mobilize resources, and more. Conference proceedings were streamed live on the internet to extend the event’s reach to leaders and managers around the country who were unable to be there in person.

LMS/Kenya staff member and registered nurse Judy Khanyola said it was “exciting to be part of this event and see the overwhelming enthusiasm and support for health leadership, management and governance. As a health worker and Kenyan, I am really happy to see the great strides being made in this area, all for benefit of the Kenyan people!”

[First National Conference on Health Leadership, Management and Governance participants work in self-selected groups on the final day of the conference.] {Photo credit: MSH}First National Conference on Health Leadership, Management and Governance participants work in self-selected groups on the final day of the conference.Photo credit: MSH

On the final day, the entire assembly worked collaboratively to develop a set of recommendations and a conference resolution which they hope will guide the sector through the delicate transitions ahead. USAID and the LMS/Kenya project are already actively working to ensure that the unified momentum of the conference continues and is sustained until January 2015 when, as per the recommendations, the Second National Conference on Health Leadership, Management and Governance will occur.

In addition to lead sponsor USAID, a variety of other partners—recognizing the value of strong leadership and sound management for improved health outcomes—provided event support. These included the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNICEF, the African Development Bank Group, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), GIZ, Danida, and Safaricom.