Healthcare in Kenya

Kenya’s scenery, magnificent wildlife and high year-round temperatures make it a popular destination among expats looking for a unique experience of life in Africa. In recent years the country’s healthcare system has seen dramatic improvements, but there are still a number of issues to be mindful of when considering healthcare options in Kenya.

The Kenyan health system can be divided into three categories. Public providers, private non-profit organisations (including faith-based and mission hospitals as well as local and international NGOs) and private for-profit health care providers.

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Basic government-funded public healthcare is provided at primary healthcare centres and dispensaries. The government pharmaceutical chain KEMSA provides medication and medical supplies to government dispensaries.  These are usually run and managed by nurses. Public health centres provide free services for simple ailments such as the common cold and flu, uncomplicated malaria and minor skin conditions. Those patients with conditions that cannot be handled by a nurse are referred to clinics and hospitals.

While expats are not restricted from using public healthcare, the standards they will encounter are well below those they are accustomed to.  Expats living in Kenya will find that public healthcare programmes and facilities tend to be understaffed, poorly equipped and lacking supplies. The Central Province and Nairobi offer the best public healthcare facilities, whereas the North-Eastern Province is the most under-developed.

The private healthcare sector in Kenya has become more prominent in recent years. Private clinics of varying standards exist in most major urban centres, including the coastal beach resort areas like Diani and Malindi. Private hospitals exist mainly in Nairobi, with a few options in Mombasa.

The private AGA Khan University hospital, located in Nairobi, is widely considered to offer a high level of care and is popular with expats. However, expats should be aware that private healthcare in Kenya can be prohibitively expensive without the assistance of a comprehensive health insurance policy.

The Kenyan healthcare system has been plagued by issues of low-quality and counterfeit medication. In large cities expats will find an abundance of small road-side pharmacies. While these may be cheaper than large chain pharmacies attached to reputable hospitals, they are also more likely to have issues with fake medication, and their staff are unlikely to be trained or qualified to give sound medical advice.

Most prescription medication should be available in Kenya. However, brand names can differ from country to country so expats should note the generic name of any medication before travelling. It is also unlikely that any significant issues will be encountered when bringing prescription medication into Kenya. Expats are advised to bring the original packaging and to have a copy of the prescription on hand when travelling.

Living in Kenya will expose expats to a number of health hazards. There is a prevalence of diseases which are carried by mosquitos, such as yellow fever, zika and malaria. The risk of contracting malaria is higher in rural parts of Kenya, so expats planning to spending time in these areas are advised to consider precautionary methods such as anti-malarial prophylaxis and using repellent.

In certain regions altitude sickness or heat related ailments may also be a risk. Expats should be sure to drink enough water and avoid overexposure to the sun. If food safety is a concern it is best to avoid drinking tap water and eating any food containing unpasteurized dairy products.

Routine vaccinations are recommended, as well as additional vaccinations for polio, rabies and hepatitis, particularly if expats plan on spending time in rural areas.  It is also essential that expats moving to Kenya have a yellow fever vaccination and carry the certificate when travelling in and out of the country.

Emergency services in Kenya are limited and largely unreliable. Ambulance response times tend to be slow as there are not many rapid response vehicles available. Even when available, Kenyan ambulances may not always be equipped to expat standards.

Some serious health issues will require medical evacuation. This can also be extremely costly and expats should ensure that their health insurance will provide appropriate cover.

The medical emergency number in Kenya is 999 and is run by English speaking operators. Expats should be sure to carry the contact details of their nearest embassy for cases of emergency.