Climate change puts a strain on Kenya’s healthcare system, doctors say

Climate ChangeKMA vice president Amos Otara, president Simon Kigondu and secretary general Diana Marion at PrideInn Paradise Hotel in Mombasa

Doctors in the country have called on the government to strengthen the country’s health system to effectively deal with increasing incidences of diseases occasioned by climate change.

The doctors, through Kenya Medical Association, on Thursday said there has been a significant increase in climate change-induced diseases like cholera, bilharzia, and rotavirus because of flooding, and skin conditions, among others.

This puts a strain on the healthcare system because of the inadequate number of doctors and other healthcare workers available, and the inadequate number of health facilities.

“Because of this strain, cases of mental illness among healthcare workers have also increased. We have seen doctors turn to alcoholism, and drug abuse, among other vices,” said Simon Kigondu, the KMA president.

He spoke in Mombasa during the KMA’s 50th annual scientific conference which doubles as the centenary celebration of the East African Medical Journal.

Kenya’s healthcare system is in dire need of improvement.

According to the World Health Organization, the ideal doctor to patient population ratio should be 1:1,000 but in Kenya the ratio is 1:16,000.

“That shows even before the climate change challenges, we needed to increase the number of doctors. Now we have the climate change challenges and thus we need even more doctors and healthcare workers,” noted Kigondu.

KMA says in Kenya, one doctor needs at least two clinical officers and about 10 nurses to effectively work.

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Kenya has 14,000 doctors registered under the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board.

Those in active service are 8,000 and only about 3,000 work in the public sector.

Environment CS Soipan Tuyo said the government is keen to restore the country’s degraded forest system and expand the tree cover through the 15 billion trees in 10 years initiative.

In a speech read on her behalf by the ministry’s senior director of administration John Elungata, Tuya said the goal is to stretch Kenya’s tree cover from the current 12.3 per cent to 30 per cent by 2032.

“We are asking Kenyans to prioritize trees that have short to medium-term monetary and health benefits including fruits, vegetables, fodder, among others,” said Tuya.

Such tree species, she said, will not only contribute to enlarging Kenya’s carbon sinks through the expanded tree cover, which is a climate change mitigation measure, but will also provide Kenyan households with economic, food and nutritional security, which are the building blocks to a healthy and prosperous population.

Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir, who was the chief guest, said he is a firm believer of enhancing public health.

“Because the cost of treating, naturally, is way more expensive than the cost of prevention,” said Nassir.

The county, he said, has employed the services of close to 2,500 community health promoters, whose role is to ensure they assist the county government in eradicating illnesses where possible and creating positive and healthy living among the community.

“They will spread the gospel of how we can overcome issues of cholera and malaria,” said Nassir.

These community health promoters will be strategically placed within every homestead or cluster of houses in the county.

Nassir said they have also hired about 50 medics and more will be hired and deployed to the county health facilities across the county.

He said a drug rehabilitation centre will be opened in June to treat those hooked to drugs.

Kigondu supported the county’s effort saying rehab centres will also help treat doctors who have different mental illnesses because of the strain of work.

“These rehab centres will be key to helping strengthen the health system because they will help treat doctors who suffer from mental illness due to work stains,” said Kigondu.

KMA secretary general Diana Marion said the association has formed a Planetary Health Committee to facilitate and organize a regional coalition of health workers against climate change, engage in global fora focusing on health change, build partnerships with like-minded organizations and government to drive advocacy, encourage and promote establishment of green environments for a healthier society.

She said each of the association’s divisions will plant 500 trees per year for a total of 10,000 trees per year.

This is meant to reduce the carbon footprint in the country because health is related to the ecosystem.

“We have seen the burden of climate-induced effects on health systems exceeding the capacity of the Kenya health system,” said Marion.

“If we take a preventive direction, then it will be much cheaper than if we wait to cure the problem.”

She said young doctors have also been trained on championing evidence-based advocacy to enable them advocate for the highest quality healthcare for Kenyans.

“So, when you see doctors pushing the government to strengthen the healthcare system, do not be surprised. They have been capacity-built,” she said.

About the Author

Moses Okitae
Moses Okitae Writes about Science stories, food security and human interest stories.

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