Domestic conflict and love affairs are the major causes of intentional poisoning in Western Kenya.
A study at one of the region’s major referral facilities, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital, investigated 385 recent cases of poisoning at the hospital and found that other than accidental poisoning through snake bites, most poison victims are at the hospital due to family conflicts and love affairsgone sour.
It also showed high rates of suicidal poisoning among men for what the study suggests is poverty and lack of employment, leading to stress and desperation.
Unemployment and poverty, the report says, had especially put a huge burden on men expected by society to provide but who can no longer meet societal obligations.
“This may predispose them to self-harm by poisoning, and may partly explain why most victims in the study area were male,” says the study led by Mitchel Okumu of the referral hospital.
An earlier study on poisoning admissions at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), with referrals from across Kenya, similarly showed increasing cases of self-poisoning among breadwinning males.
About 60 per cent of acute poisoning patients at KNH, the report by Dr David Gitonga Nyamu of the University of Nairobi showed to be males most of them aged 21-30.
More deaths from suicides, but this time affecting the elderly, were reported last week by the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the University of Oxford of the UK.
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The study carried out in Kilifi County showed the highest rates of suicides to be among males aged 64 or more. The researchers suggested these findings may be a reflection of suicide trends in rural Kenya.
In the report published on August 29 in BMC Psychiatry, the authors say these suicides were preceded by stress, poverty and chronic illnesses and may be prevalent across rural Kenya.
Of 104 suicide deaths studied in the area, those among men were twice as many as for women and tended to increase with age and poverty.
The reports of increasing suicides among Kenya’s poor elders comes at a time the State Department of Social Protection says to have spent over Sh27 billion in cash transfers to the elderly.
The cash transfer was launched in 2008 to cushion the elderly – over 65 years – against the effects of abject poverty.
It also comes five years since the Jubilee Government removed user fees from dispensaries and health centres across Kenya to allow the old and poor more access to medical care.
The Kilifi study found most of the old who had committed suicide to have had a history of cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.
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Use of firearms to commit suicide has also been rising in Kenya. One of the data sets used to compile the global report came from the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey in July and said the number of guns in civilian hands in the country has jumped from 680,000 in 2016 to 750,000.
Out of the 750,000 private firearms, only 8,136 are registered, representing a paltry one per cent, the survey said. This means that a majority of private guns or 99 per cent are held illegally.