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Why lifestyle diseases are still on the rise in Central region

Photo: Courtesy

When David King’ori was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2011, he did not imagine it would create a whirlwind of events that would transform his life dramatically and rob him of life’s simple pleasures.

Mr King’ori, 66, has since retired from his Government job as a veterinary officer and returned permanently to his home in Othaya, Nyeri County.

King’ori’s new day-to-day routine typically revolves around managing the diabetes as well as high blood pressure.

The disease is associated with poor diet and lack of physical exercise.

He no longer has the freedom to work or even enjoy simple activities such as walking or eating certain kinds of food, owing to the overwhelming complications that come with the two conditions.

“It has been very hard,” says King’ori. "When I retired at 55, I decided to open a hardware shop in Othaya, but I was unable to keep it open every day. Some days I would wake up feeling fatigued or my vision was very poor. Eventually I decided to close it for good."

Closing the hardware shop meant that King’ori and his wife were left with only farming as a source of income. Even though five of the couple’s seven children are adults, the financial burden is still heavy.

Their farm earnings are barely enough to sustain them let alone cater for the heavy medical costs, which have risen in recent months after his wife was also diagnosed with high blood pressure.

The King’ori household is just one of thousands in Nyeri that are struggling with the burden of diabetes and high blood pressure. In fact, Central region has the highest prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in the country.

In 2013, Charles Githinji, the then county health executive, noted that the prevalence of diabetes in the county was almost double that of the whole country, standing at a worrying 12.6 per cent, against a prevalence rate of 5.6 per cent for Kenya.

Followed closely

Nyeri is followed closely by Nyandarua and Murang’a counties, which each have a prevalence of 10 per cent, while the prevalence in Kirinyaga County is 5.6 per cent.

The runaway rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in Nyeri and the larger Central region are not without cause, according to Peter Ngatia, the assistant chief clinical officer in Nairobi County.

Mr Ngatia also runs a medical facility in Nyeri.

“The meat and alcohol intake in Nyeri County is extremely high. If you walk around, you will find that each village in this county has many bars and butcheries,” he explains.

“For every 10 homes in the county, there is at least one kiosk,” Ngatia adds, noting that these kiosks mostly sell manufactured food products such as bread, highly refined ugali flour and the more affordable saturated cooking fat, which are not only unhealthy but also consumed in large quantities by the residents.

Ngatia continues to paint the picture of a region where the lifestyle practices are noticeably risky.

He states that the physical activity levels of the residents, especially those who are better off financially, are on the decline, mostly marked by an increase in the use of motorbikes to get around as opposed to walking.

Health-enhancing behaviour is also poor, especially among men, who smoke excessively and do not like to go to hospital for check-ups or treatment for minor illnesses.

Fruit intake in the region is also significantly low.

Although no study has officially linked these lifestyle habits to the high rates of diabetes in the county, it is likely they are the drivers. 

According to the Ministry of Health’s 2015 STEPwise Survey for Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Factors, modifiable risk factors for diseases such as diabetes include lack of physical activity, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, use of tobacco and exposure to tobacco smoke.