Healthcare in Kenya

The quality and availability of healthcare in Kenya varies tremendously, depending on location, choice of hospital, and need for treatment. In general, though, expats will find the standard of healthcare throughout Kenya to be below par. Foreigners are advised to look at private healthcare options and to look into the speciality areas of each hospital. Due to financial and organisational discrepancies, the city's hospitals fall short when compared to international standards.

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 a number of different types of public medical facilities in Nairobi, 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. 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.

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. Even 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. Furthermore, the hygiene levels and quality of equipment are much improved in comparison.

Kenya has an extensive network of private healthcare facilities, from small local clinics to large hospitals. There are a number of private hospitals and medical clinics in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Private healthcare can be good, with small but modern health facilities and well-trained medical staff. Day-to-day treatment can be surprisingly affordable, but it's highly recommended that 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, it's advised that 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

There is a national healthcare plan in Kenya that all civil servants are required to join. Expats are eligible to take advantage of this, but most don't as healthcare services aren't up to the standards they're accustomed to.

Though not compulsory by law, private health insurance comes very 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, expats should obtain suitable coverage prior to arriving. When taking out health insurance in Kenya, it is important that expats are aware of the terms of their coverage. A comprehensive policy is best.

Pharmacies 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 a number of trustworthy pharmacy chains in Kenya, the branches of which can be spotted in almost any town centre or shopping mall in Kenya.

Most generic medicines are easy to find at Kenyan pharmacies. Even though many medications are imported to Kenya, they are generally cheaper than in a lot of other expat destinations. However, it is still 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

Expats should get the latest medical advice on vaccinations and malaria prevention prior to arriving in Kenya. A malaria risk exists all year round.

Immunisation against hepatitis A and typhoid are often recommended, along with the upkeep of standard vaccinations such as mumps, measles and rubella. Preventing bites from disease-bearing insects is the best protection against a number of dangerous illnesses, including malaria and dengue fever. It's recommended that expats sleep under a mosquito net and make use of insect repellent.

Water quality in Kenya is variable, so expats 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 can be varied. In cities like Nairobi and Mombasa, the standard of emergency medical services is not excellent but is passable, with Kenya Red Cross and St John Ambulance Kenya providing services to those in need. In rural areas, however, the standard of emergency medical services is poor or non-existent.

Private hospitals in Kenyan cities often have a small fleet of ambulances that are sent out to assist patients. However, in most cases, it will be faster to get a patient to the nearest hospital in a private vehicle, as waiting times for ambulances in Kenya can be long.

In the event of an emergency, expats can call an ambulance on the emergency number 999.

Marianne Our Expat Expert

I'm an Australian now living in Kenya. I spend my time travelling the country, volunteering, and helping those less fortunate. In my spare time I love to learn more about Kenya, watch my girly movies, hang out with my man, go shopping, journaling, scrapbooking, reading, volunteering and meeting new people. My boyfriend and I are co-owners of a company in Kenya. We place international volunteers in areas of need around Kenya. It is the most rewarding work I could ever wish to do. I love everything about Kenya!

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