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The quality and availability of healthcare in Kenya vary tremendously, depending on location, choice of hospital and need for treatment. In general, expats find healthcare throughout Kenya to be below European standards. We advise foreigners to look at private healthcare options and to look into the speciality areas of each hospital, as these are usually better than public facilities.
As is the case elsewhere in the world, private healthcare in Kenya is considerably more expensive than the country's public healthcare. Most expats are willing to pay a higher price in exchange for better quality healthcare with shorter waiting times.
Public healthcare in Kenya
There are several different types and levels of public medical facilities in Kenya, all of which work on a system of escalating referrals, depending on the problem.
For those not on private healthcare, government-run dispensaries are the first port of call. KEMSA (Kenya Medical Supplies Authority) is the state-run organisation that supplies most of the medical equipment and medication to these dispensaries. These facilities are run and managed by nurses and provide the most basic outpatient services for simple illnesses such as the colds and flu, skin conditions and the initial treatment of malaria.
If the nurses at the dispensary cannot deal with a problem, the patient will be referred to a health centre. Government-run health centres are run and managed by a clinical officer. Health centres in Nairobi provide primary care and focus mainly on preventative care such as vaccinations. They tend to fall short when it comes to curative treatment, though.
Complicated cases may be referred upwards to a government district or provincial hospital.
Private healthcare in Kenya
Most expats prefer to use private healthcare facilities in Kenya. Though the cost is much higher than treatment at public facilities, the quality of service tends to be better and doctors are often more experienced. The hygiene levels and quality of equipment are much improved in comparison.
Private healthcare is good, with small but modern health facilities and well-trained medical staff. Day-to-day treatment can be surprisingly affordable but, to admit patients without insurance to a private hospital, a heavy deposit is required. We highly recommend expats settling in Kenya invest in private health insurance so that they are covered for more complex procedures and expensive evacuations.
For any serious operations, some expats look outside the country for help. South Africa is widely considered as having the best medical facilities on the continent and is the usual destination for emergency medical evacuation.
Health insurance in Kenya
Kenya's public healthcare system operates with contributions from two types of social security services, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and the National Social Security Scheme (NSSF). The NHIF is largely targeted at Kenyan citizens over the age of 18, though all citizens and expatriates working in Kenya must make monthly contributions to this, deducted from their salary.
Though expats are eligible to take advantage of the NHIF, most opt for private healthcare which requires a greater and more comprehensive insurance policy.
Though not compulsory by law, private health insurance comes strongly recommended for expats in Kenya. Without it, healthcare costs are just as expensive as in Western countries, and covering the costs for emergency care – and especially medical evacuation – out of pocket can be impossible.
Often, employers relocating expats to Kenya will provide insurance. But if not, suitable coverage should normally be organised before arriving. When taking out health insurance in Kenya, expats must be aware of the terms of their coverage. A comprehensive policy is best.
Pharmacies and medicine in Kenya
Pharmacies in Kenya are also referred to as chemists and expats can easily find these in any major town or city.
The best pharmacies are often attached to hospitals. There are also several trustworthy pharmacy chains in Kenya, the branches of which can be spotted in almost any town centre or shopping mall in Kenya. Some pharmacies in large cities operate 24-hours, but it's best to check opening hours.
Most generic medicines are easy to find at Kenyan pharmacies. Even though many medications are imported to Kenya, they are generally cheaper than in many other expat destinations. Still, it is best to have an insurance policy that covers all medication expenses.
Expats suffering from chronic illnesses or those who need prescription medication should try to bring a supply with them, as well as copies of the prescription and generic names of the drugs.
Health hazards and vaccinations in Kenya
We encourage expats to visit a healthcare practitioner for information on which vaccinations are needed before moving to Kenya. Immunisation against yellow fever, polio, rabies, hepatitis A and typhoid are often recommended, along with the upkeep of standard vaccinations such as measles, mumps and rubella.
Malaria, cholera and dengue fever are health risks in Kenya. Preventing bites from disease-bearing insects is the best protection against many dangerous illnesses, including malaria and dengue fever. It's suggested that residents sleep under mosquito nets and make use of insect repellent. Expats moving to Kenya should also consider taking a course of anti-malarial tablets.
On top of general safety concerns, water quality in Kenya is variable. So, residents are advised not to drink water directly from the tap unless they have a pathogen- and bacteria-killing water filter. It's also best to be cautious of food prepared by unlicensed roadside vendors.
Emergency medical services in Kenya
The standard of emergency medical services in Kenya varies. In cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa, the level of emergency medical services is not excellent but is passable, with Kenya Red Cross and St John Ambulance Kenya providing emergency medical care to those in need. In rural areas, emergency health services are poor to non-existent.
Private hospitals in Kenyan cities often have a small fleet of ambulances that are sent out to assist patients.
In the event of an emergency, expats can call:
- Fire and ambulance services: 999
- Police hotline: 999, 112, or 911
In many cases, it is faster to get a patient to the nearest hospital in a private vehicle as waiting times for ambulances in Kenya are long. The largest Accident and Emergency departments in Nairobi are Nairobi Hospital and the Aga Khan University Hospital.
►For more on how to choose a suitable medical insurance package, read Health Insurance in Kenya
►Get details for recommended hospitals in Healthcare in Nairobi
"It is easy to get same-day appointments and the charges for consultations and medicines are not too high." Read our interview with Frances for suggested hospitals in Kenya.
"There is a huge spectrum of available healthcare in Kenya, from the very questionable clinics available in the slums, to very modern, reputable private hospitals accessible only to those with means. As an expat (especially if your employer offers you health insurance), you will have access to the finest doctors and hospitals in Nairobi." Read about medical care in Kenya from an expat's perspective in our interview with Tara.
Are you an expat living in Kenya?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Kenya. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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