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Ruth Prince: Refiguring the Social? Health Insurance for the Poor in Kenya

24. Mai 2022 

Hybrid sem­i­nar on 24th May 2022 at 16:00–17:15bst as part of the LSHTM Med­ical Anthro­pol­o­gy series.

You can join in per­son at the Man­son Lec­ture The­atre in our Kep­pel Street build­ing in Lon­don, or join online in zoom webi­nar:



Across the globe, cur­rent moves towards Uni­ver­sal Health Cov­er­age (UHC) appear to extend ‘the social’. Reviv­ing a lan­guage of fair­ness and social jus­tice, sol­i­dar­i­ty and human rights, UHC promis­es to ensure access to qual­i­ty health­care for all ‘with­out finan­cial hard­ship’. In Africa, moves towards UHC involve exper­i­men­ta­tion with pro­gres­sive poli­cies of expand­ing state respon­si­bil­i­ty for health­care and social pro­tec­tion for cit­i­zens. How­ev­er, they also occur amidst con­tin­u­al expan­sion of pri­vate health­care and grow­ing social inequal­i­ty. Indeed, UHC can eas­i­ly be dis­missed as a stick­ing plas­ter solu­tion that mere­ly repro­duces neolib­er­al forms of gov­er­nance and health­care reform, offer­ing min­i­mal forms of finan­cial pro­tec­tion and health­care for tar­get­ed ben­e­fi­cia­ries such as ‘the poor’.

Our research aims to move beyond the impasse between endorse­ment and cri­tique to take seri­ous­ly the aspi­ra­tions and inter­pre­ta­tions of actors, and the trans­la­tions and fric­tions involved in moves towards expand­ing access to health care for ‘all’. In this vein, Pro­fes­sor Prince’s pre­sen­ta­tion will fol­low the Kenyan government’s recent attempts to expand health insur­ance for its cit­i­zens. She draws upon ethno­graph­ic research con­duct­ed in sev­er­al peri­ods from 2018 to the present with actors involved in the design and imple­men­ta­tion of these schemes, as well as with ordi­nary Kenyans strug­gling to access health­care. In doing so she explores rela­tions between pol­i­cy design and imple­men­ta­tion as actors strug­gle with a spec­trum of com­plex­i­ties, from locat­ing ‘the poor’ to dig­i­tal reg­is­tra­tion, to ensur­ing finan­cial flows and the deliv­ery of medicine.


Ruth Prince is Pro­fes­sor of Med­ical Anthro­pol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oslo. She leads a Euro­pean Research Coun­cil Start­ing Grant project, ‘Uni­ver­sal Health Cov­er­age and the Pub­lic Good in Africa: Anthro­po­log­i­cal Per­spec­tives’, which explores rela­tions between health care, cit­i­zen­ship and the state, and between for­mal and infor­mal forms of wel­fare and social sol­i­dar­i­ty. She is cur­rent­ly study­ing Kenya’s exper­i­ments with uni­ver­sal health cov­er­age and health insur­ance mar­kets, social net­works of care, and class relations.