|Joyce Mulama: Challenges in promoting children's health in Kenya
||[Nov. 16th, 2009|12:10 pm]
The Aid Debate
At age seven, Johnson Mungai (left), from Chokaa village, in Ruai, a peri-urban settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi, already knows that children are getting a raw deal where their health is concerned. |
From the periodic shortage of drugs in public health facilities and to the lack of clean water that continues to subject many children to diarrhea, Mungai is aware that with the current status, prospects of achieving universal child health are nil.
“Because of lack of clean water, sometimes we are forced to use water from a nearby pond. It is not good for our stomachs because we get diarrhea and cholera. When we visit the health centre, sometimes we are asked to go collect medicine after two days,” he said.
Mungai’s remarks are not isolated. Florence Kariuki (right), a community health worker in the area says there has been an increase in cases of diarrhoea in children over the years due to a severe lack of clean water in the area that is home to more than 7,500 people.
“There is a big problem of insufficient water; people buy a 20 litre container at Ksh 3 (about £ 0.025). Because of the high level of poverty here, hygiene standards are compromised and therefore diseases like diarrhoea, which greatly affect children are widespread,” noted Kariuki.
Kariuki’s concerns follow a recent statement by the Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo that close to 30,000 Kenyans, mainly children below five years, die annually due to diarrhoea related diseases. “Paediatric death toll due to diarrhoea exceeds that of HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, yet it's preventable through observation of simple hygiene practices," said Mugo.
The child deaths, experts say, could be controlled by 50 percent if only clean water was made available to communities. In efforts to intervene, organisations like World Vision have provided schools and health facilities within Ruai with 16,000 litre- water tanks and drilled boreholes to help boost sanitation levels.
While provision of clean water is critical, ensuring a steady supply of critical drugs in public health facilities will go along way in promotion of child health. Such include malaria drugs that are essential in addressing Malaria, Kenya's biggest childhood killer, claiming the lives of an estimated 36,000 under-fives annually, according to official figures.
But government and council-run health centres have been experiencing shortage of essential medicines to treat malaria. “Sometimes when we take our children to be treated at Njiru health centre, five kilometres away, we are told to go fetch the drugs the following day or after two days,” Zipporah Kembo, a resident of Chokaa said.
While malaria drugs should be available in public hospitals for free or at highly subsidised costs, concerns of drug shortage in these facilities are growing, forcing patients to find alternatives or forego treatment altogether. Josephine Aeasi, a seven year old girl from Nawoyaregae community in Turkana South, some 700 kilometres northwest of Nairobi, wants the situation rectified.
“Make medicines available at the hospital; sometimes when we go to the hospital to be treated we find there are no drugs, and my parents cannot afford to buy them from the drug stores,” she observed.
For Aeasi and Mungai, the dream of realising health for all children will remain a distant dream unless these issues are addressed.