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Background: Kenya has committed to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) and prioritised purchasing reforms. Existing evidence indicates that purchasing can be leveraged to achieve health system objectives when done strategically. However, no single study has collated evidence on the progress and bottlenecks on strategic health purchasing (SHP) in Kenya to inform requisite SHP reforms in moving towards UHC. Against this backdrop, we assessed the progress and gaps in SHP in Kenya. Methods: We used a cross-sectional qualitative study design and collected data using document reviews, key informant interviews, and a stakeholder engagement workshop focussing on the three main purchasers in Kenya: the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), county departments of health (CDOH) and the Ministry of Health (purchaser for vertical programmes). Data was analysed following a framework analysis approach. Results: Kenya is making progress towards developing, implementing and institutionalising SHP practices that should lead to the attainment of health system goals. Progress has been made in 1) strengthening the process of defining a health benefits package available for the population, 2) engaging in selective contracting and integrated care contracting, 3) implementing multiple provider payment mechanisms, 4) designing legal and regulatory frameworks that provide direction for purchasing, and 5) increasingly utilising information systems. However, several gaps remain. First, there remain inadequate linkages between MOH policies and the NHIF that can facilitate adequate stewardship/oversight. Second, the purchasers lack adequate capacity to ensure quality assurance and enforce contracts. Third, provider payment methods (PPM) remain poorly designed, implemented, and are not adequately linked to health system goals. Finally, purchasers have weak or unclearly defined communications strategies to patients and providers. Conclusions: Although Kenya is making progress in SHP, key gaps remain. Consequently, there is a need to implement reforms that will align the purchasers’ actions and decisions to the ideals of strategic health purchasing.

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