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Kenya -- Health

Many illnesses in Kenya are transmitted by insects and animals, and by the use of contaminated water for washing and drinking. The situation is compounded by the relatively common lack of understanding of sanitary principles, by malnutrition--which both causes specific disabilities and lowers resistance--and by AIDS. Infectious respiratory diseases and malaria account for a majority of illnesses and deaths. Malaria remains a major health risk despite long-standing programs to control its spread, including spraying of mosquito-infested areas and free distribution of antimalaria prophylaxis. Other common illnesses include tuberculosis, dysentery, and parasitic and venereal diseases. Filariasis, transmitted by a bite from an infected black fly, mosquito, or mangrove fly is common in coastal regions. Kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis), transmitted by the bite of an infected sand fly, is a serious health problem in certain northern areas. Sleeping sickness, transmitted by tsetse flies, is a problem particularly in the Lambwe valley and the Samia area in Busia District of Nyanza Province.

Measles is a problem that especially afflicts young children. Other leading causes of infant mortality are gastroenteritis, colitis, kwashiorkor, tetanus, and whooping cough. Anemia, due to protein deficiency, is widespread. Vitamin A deficiency, various parasitic infections, and trachoma, which causes blindness, are also common in Kenya, as are skin diseases. Fortunately, epidemic diseases, such as smallpox and cholera, have largely been controlled.

Since independence, the Ministry of Health has been charged with the principal responsibility for providing health services. Its functions include devising health policy; planning, organizing and administrating central health services; training health care practitioners; coordinating activities with other government departments and non-governmental agencies; and complying with international health regulations. Additional medical services are provided by private organizations and church groups.

Many Kenyans also use traditional methods of diagnosis and treatment. There is widespread belief that illness and death are caused by malevolent spirits or angry ancestors, or are the result of the conscious or unconscious misconduct of the sick person or a member of their family. Traditional cures involve finding the cause of afflictions through divination as well as restoring the social equilibrium brought on by the affliction through magical acts and sacrifice.[1]

The AIDS virus arrived late in Kenya compared with nearby countries like Uganda. Increasingly, the Kenyan government has made allowances for AIDS in preparing development plans. In October 1996, the government reported that a total of 65,000 AIDS sufferers had sought hospital care. According to a report released in May 1994 by the Ministry of Health, a total of 130,000 cases had been documented. 1994-96 development plans forecast that the HIV-infected population in Kenya would rise from 448,000 in 1990 to 1.27 million by 1996, and that the AIDS-related deaths would increase from 20,000 to 80,000 in the same period.

Since the 1960s, Kenya has given priority to improving basic health services.

This improvement, together with growth in average income, has resulted in a better overall quality of life for most Kenyans. Official figures give a total of 3,058 health institutions in 1996, up from 2,925 just the previous year. The health sector's share of central government expenditure rose from 5% in 1995/96 to 7% in 1996/97.[2]

Since 1989, Kenya has reduced government commitment to public health through selective privatization. In December 1989, the Ministry of Health introduced a cost-recovery program known as the Facility Improvement Fund, which covers fees for inpatient and outpatient services at all hospitals and health centers. Kenyans are encouraged to make better use of health centers and dispensaries and so to relieve demand on hospitals for services.

[1] Kaplan, Irving & 1976. Area Handbook for Kenya, Second Ed., U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C. pp. 136-142.

[2] The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1998, Country Profile. Kenya, The Unit: London, pp.19-20.

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