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

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs