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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
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 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 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 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.

VOA Blogs