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(Mombasa) - The Kenyan government should remove barriers to health care and make sure that there is no backsliding in access to care, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to parliament. Parliament is currently debating the budget for 2011-2012.

Human Rights Watch's detailed research on access to health care in Kenya since 2007 has documented funding shortages and barriers to accessing obstetric care, palliative care, and HIV services for children, which have resulted in violations of the right to health. Key problems include a dysfunctional referral system between health facilities, a lack of properly trained and supported community health volunteers, and user fees.

"Parliament should support greater investment in maternal health, child health, and HIV prevention and treatment," said Juliane Kippenberg, senior children's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Together, these programs can contribute to a stronger health infrastructure that will save lives."

Human Rights Watch made a series of specific recommendations, including strengthening the role of community health workers, improving the referral system between health care facilities, exempting fees for maternal health care in all health facilities, and allocating a separate budget line for palliative care. Kenya's current health budget is at around 6.5 percent of total government expenditure, a decrease from the 7 percent Kenya allocated in 2009-2010. In 2001, Kenya and other African governments made a commitment in the Abuja Declaration to allocate 15 percent of their total budgets to health.

"Kenya has made significant progress in addressing public health when it has invested resources to fund these programs, and to remove barriers to carrying out the programs," Kippenberg said. "In the current budget discussion, parliament should renew those investments and demonstrate its commitment to fulfill its obligation to guarantee the right to health of all Kenyans."

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