By David Njagi
Kenya’s civil society is raising concern over an alleged plot to sneak a health bill through parliament before consensus has been reached over unclear details contained in the document.
Lobby groups claim they are being sidelined by the National Task Force, alleging the committee is not receptive to some proposed amendments to the draft law. Among the issues raising tensions are clauses on abortion which are seen to be unclear, while the committee at the Ministry of Health is being accused of secrecy. For instance, officials from the Kenya Medical Association (KMA), Kenya Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (KOGS) and the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) claim they are not being consulted in the process of developing the bill.
Other accusations being traded suggest selective appointment of representatives to the Task Force, which is said to be pushing for swift passage of the legislation.
“With the current pace it is possible for the bill to go through before the end of the year because Parliament is in a hurry to pass pending laws,” says Prof. Joseph Karanja, a reproductive health expert from the University of Nairobi. According to him, the Bill which is still at the Health Ministry has some clauses which by their meaning appear to be contradicting the constitution. Such clauses include provisions 6(1)c, 6(2) and 6(3) which refer to abortion but are vague and unclear, according to a document by the Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (RHRA). In the simplified interpretation by RHRA, the health bill is said to prohibit abortion since it requires a trained and licensed professional to perform the operation but fails to define who such a practitioner might be.
“The bill lacks focus and may cause conflict of interest if it is not reviewed,” says Dr. Carol Odula of Kenya Medical Women’s Association (KMWA).
Officials from the health Ministry declined to comment.
At least 2,000 maternal deaths a reported annually due to unsafe abortion while East Africa has the highest burden on at 2.5 million unsafe abortions.