There are counties in Kenya where you can live to 90, and others where that is not even a pipe dream; you will die young.
Counties where Kenyans live longest, are in Eastern and Central regions, according to the 2019 report by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). The report cited Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Murang’a, Meru, Kiambu, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kirinyaga and Embu as places you can live to see your great grand children.
Take Machakos, for instance. It has more than 6,000 people aged over 90 years, followed by Kitui and Makueni with more than 5,700, while Murang’a has more than 5,400 and Meru above 5,300. Kiambu has at least 4,000 nanogenarians.
Nyeri and Nakuru have more than 3,500 people hitting their 90th birthday, while Kirinyaga and Embu have at least 3,000 and 2,900 respectively.
An official from KNBS said various factors are linked to the data finding, but was reluctant to share, saying “e documented the data, but we have not released a report on the same.”
Gitile Naituli, a professor of management and leadership at the Multimedia University, said affordability of living, including good healthcare and food, makes people in a given population to live longer.
“People who eat well, access quality healthcare, and are satisfied with what they have will obviously live longer,” said Prof Naituli, also a former Commissioner at the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC).
However, he said people in Machakos, Kitui and Makueni lived longer because they are comfortable with what they have. “Happiness index is among the reasons why people live longer. For example, people might be poor, but happy in their poorest state. That makes them comfortable, and they therefore live longer,” he added.
Ten counties with the lowest life expectancy include Mombasa (871), West Pokot (759), Garissa (714), Mandera (694), Turkana (690), Isiolo (486), Wajir (478), Samburu (437, Tana River at 435 and Lamu with only 227.
The report notes that Kenya’s life expectancy has been rising from 52.4 years in 1999, 59.7 in 2009 and 65.4 in 2019.
Turkana County Director of Medical Services Gilchrist Lokoel attributed increased life expectancy to economic, social and health factors.
On the economic aspect, he said people were able to sustain themselves if they could afford a living and participate in legislation.
“Life expectancy in the country has increased over the years because each day livelihoods improve. That is a good gesture, and trickles down on development aspects,” said Dr Lokoel. He added that over the years, economic status in Turkana had been poor, resulting in premature deaths besides populations in such counties having predisposition to “poor man’s diseases like cholera, diarrhea and Tuberculosis (TB)”.
“It is unfortunate that poor people risk contracting TB because of poor ventilation and diseases that can easily be controlled,” said Lokoel. He said people in disadvantaged counties like Garissa, Turkana, West Pokot and other North Eastern counties had perennially suffered poor healthcare.
He said hospitals were located far, against recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) of a radius of 5km.
For example, before devolution, Turkana had only 160 hospitals, located in a 55km radius, which made it difficult for locals to access quality healthcare.
Due to disparity in healthcare, he said, it has been difficult to monitor pregnancy, deliveries, normal growth of children and immunisation.
Currently, the county has increased hospitals to 228 and “if someone has a heart attack, with proper infrastructure, they can be rushed to hospital and mitigation is addressed, unlike in some counties, where people have to walk miles of kilometers,” according to Lokoel.
He said: “Affordability, accessibility, and quality healthcare boost health among the population”.
Lokoel added that Turkana was faced with cross-border insecurity by virtue of neighbouring Ethiopia and South Sudan, an issue that also contributes to high mortality rate.
Insecurity, observed Lokoel, affects economic practices, health and social welfare, and “when people are moving from one area to another due to threats and fears of being killed, they develop stress and also cannot live a normal life. This is why life expectancy is low in counties with insecurity and conflict,” said Lokoel.
The Meru complain less, feel less miserable
Meru County has the fifth highest life expectancy rate in Kenya, which Prof Naituli attributed to rich and high agricultural production that give locals easy access to food. They sell excess produce for income that affords them good healthcare, shelter and clothing, among other needs.
“Fertile soils and farming makes locals access sufficient food... Food is a major need,” he observed, adding that the Ameru, like most Kamba people, are also satisfied with what they have, and consider themselves happiest people in the country, they complain less, and feel less miserable and even when they might look poor in their manyattas, they are happy in such conditions.
“Comparing ourselves to other people is what kills the population, because instead of working to attain what you want, we want to be like someone else,” explains Prof Naituli. “This does not apply among Merus, because they sell their agricultural produce, feed their families and that makes them happy.”
Prof Naituli joked about his mother, who is 100, but still walks and operates on her own, having been satisfied with the little she had.
Men die earlier, while women cope better with stress and depression.
Life expectancy of women aged above 90 is higher in both rural and urban populations. In urban areas there were only 3,103 men who exceeded 90 years compared to 7,541 women.
The figures were more interesting in rural Kenya, where men aged above 90 were fewer than women. According to the data, we have a total 29,791 men living in rural areas, who are above 90 compared to 56,931 women.
Prof Naituli explains that men in urban areas die more before reaching 90 because they lack capacity to handle stress compared to women “who are biologically made to deal with more stressing issues than men, reasons to why in urban areas, a man will easily die due to depression and other issues, as compared to women.”