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Kenya: civil society urges UN intervention on health privatization harms

Nairobi, Kenya (October 27, 2022) – The Kenyan government’s growth of the private healthcare sector, alongside its failure to put in place adequate regulation, is deepening inequalities in access and resulting in unsafe and unaffordable care, according to a broad coalition of 20 civil society groups. The groups submitted their allegations to United Nations human rights experts today and called for urgent action.

“Real people are suffering as a result of policies that treat healthcare as yet another asset from which foreign investors and big corporations can make money, rather than as a true public service,” said Amina Hashi, Acting Executive Director of Hakijamii, a Kenyan rights organization and one of the signatories. “Even the government’s flagship approach to universal health coverage amounts to stealth privatization and puts rights at risk.”

The submission was prepared by Kenyan civil society and joined in solidarity by other organizations whose work addresses human rights and health issues in Kenya and globally. The signatories cited extensive documentation of harms associated with the growing role of the private sector and neglect of the public one, including individuals pushed into poverty and debt in order to pay for expensive private care, private hospitals detaining patients for failure to pay their bills, and problems with the quality and safety of many private providers, especially in lower-income areas such as informal settlements.

According to the signatories, privatization and commercialization of healthcare have had disproportionate impacts on historically underserved and marginalized groups and areas. Despite being presented as a solution to scarce public resources, increasing reliance on the private sector has placed a significant fiscal burden on the state.

The groups also urged the experts to press the World Bank Group—including the International Finance Corporation—as well as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on their initiatives to promote a greater role for the private sector in healthcare in Kenya. In light of the human rights impacts associated with health privatization and commercialization in Kenya, the development actors’ continued promotion of the private sector is highly concerning, the groups said.

“Too often the beneficiaries of pro-private sector approaches to development are actually the private sector and the well-off, not those marginalized communities most entitled to service improvements,” said Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur and faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law (CHRGJ), another signatory to the submission.

“Development actors have long promoted private healthcare, and make all sorts of promises about access and affordability that research shows rarely come true,” said Rebecca Riddell, Director of the Human Rights and Privatization Project at CHRGJ and co-author of a recent report on the privatization of healthcare in Kenya, published jointly by CHRGJ and Hakijamii. “There’s far too little accountability for what are, frankly, the predictable results of pushing for-profit approaches to essential social services.”

The groups wrote to a number of UN human rights rapporteurs and experts including the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, and the Working Group on business and human rights. The submission urges the experts to formally raise these issues with the Kenyan government, the World Bank Group, and the United States government. UN human rights experts—part of  the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures system—can issue official communications which convey concerns about human rights violations and press authorities to take action.

“This is a moment of political change in Kenya,” said Clinton Nyamongo, Program Officer for Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights at Hakijamii. “We hope that by bringing these concerns to the attention of UN experts, it will encourage the new administration to take a markedly different approach and really invest in the public healthcare system, which is far more capable of
ensuring the right to health.”


For more information and media requests, contact:

Amina Hashi, Acting Executive Director, Economic and Social Rights Centre – Hakijamii,, +254 728 368566

Rebecca Riddell, Director, Human Rights and Privatization Project, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law,, +1 512 663 6614



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