News / Africa

Kenya Has 'First World' Health Problems

People shop at a Nakumatt store in an upmarket area of Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 5, 2011.People shop at a Nakumatt store in an upmarket area of Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 5, 2011.
x
People shop at a Nakumatt store in an upmarket area of Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 5, 2011.
People shop at a Nakumatt store in an upmarket area of Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 5, 2011.
Gabe Joselow
The unhealthy habits that come along with economic development, including smoking, drinking and eating fast food, are taking their toll on the health of Kenyans, who are suffering from increasing rates of high blood pressure. Health workers are concerned that if unchecked, this affliction could become a serious problem for the country.

In the checkout line at a supermarket in downtown Nairobi, a conveyor belt moves bags of potato chips, snack foods, processed meats and cheeses, tubs of margarine and bottles of cooking oil.

What many customers here don’t know is that these foods are silent killers - high in salt and fat, ingredients that ratchet up a person’s blood pressure and can lead to an early death from stroke or heart disease.

"They are not aware that they could be sick," said Milicent Manyore, founder of Medical Missions Kenya, a non-profit that provides free health screenings across the country.

"They could have a time bomb. There could be something happening to them, and there’s something they can do about it, [but] they don’t even know that," she said.

Manyore, a nurse practicing in the United States, has raised the alarm in Kenya about the dangers of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, after being diagnosed with the problem herself.

"And so what I did was every time I went home [to Kenya] I started screening people, and I discovered the more I started screening people the more cases of hypertension I discovered. Yeah, that’s how it started," said the nurse.

The World Health Organization says cases of hypertension are most prevalent in low-income countries in Africa, where more than 40 percent of the adult population can be affected.

Lifestyle

In Kenya, Manyore has noticed that the cases are not uniform across the nation.

In more urbanized areas, like Central Province, just outside Nairobi, she says up to 75 percent of those screened have high blood pressure. While in the remote, pastoral Samburu region, less than 10 percent of the population suffers from hypertension.

Manyore says lifestyle makes all the difference.

"They walk more distances, they eat organic food, they don’t buy processed food," she said. "So we could see the lifestyle between the two tribes or areas. There’s a big difference; there’s a huge difference."

The treadmills are usually busy at this downtown fitness center, one of the many gyms in town catering to a growing middle class.

Exercise can be hard to come by in Nairobi, where those who can afford to drive take cars and buses to get around, and where the air quality is often unhealthy.

Peter Murunga, a physical trainer, says clients often come in looking for help getting their blood pressure under control, but many are unaware of the help they can get from regular exercise.

"People get sick and they go to the hospital and they are told now to go to the gym and work out. But that’s too late. If somebody is 50 years and he has never seen a gym in his life, so you can imagine how the kids will be," he said.

"Not difficult to treat"

Professor Elijah Ogola, a cardiologist who teaches at the University of Nairobi, says hypertension is not difficult to treat. The drugs are available, but people must make a greater effort to get checked.

"We need to get people to know whether they’re hypertensive or not. And again, a lot of education needs to be done in this area, because hypertension is a symptomless disease," said Ogola.

He encourages doctors and nurses to make blood pressure checks part of standard procedure.

"Also getting the health workers to be conscious that when you encounter an adult, for whatever reason, it just takes an extra five minutes to know their blood pressure," said the professor.

The Kenyan government is conducting a national health survey that will include data on blood pressure to better guide policy going forward.

The battle against hypertension will be difficult, with danger lurking in every grocery store, bar and fried chicken joint.

You May Like

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid