Alarm as six boys die in botched circumcisions

Preliminary reports blamed the deaths of initiates on, among other things ‘hardcore and drunken caretakers’ in some circumcision shrines. [iStockphoto]

Health workers and Chiefs in North Rift counties have been put on high alert after six initiates died in botched circumcision rites in two counties.

Massive circumcision rites among teenage boys currently on long school holidays commenced in November across several counties in the Rift Valley.

But the cultural exercise has turned tragic, with alarmed health workers revealing a shocking number of deaths and severe injuries in some seclusion shrines.

Circumcision shrines are no-go-zones except for caregivers and respectable community elders among many communities in the North Rift region, but in the last four days, health workers have been calling for inspection of the sacred places following the deaths.

A preliminary report on Saturday blamed the deaths of initiates on, among other things ‘hardcore and drunken caretakers’ in some circumcision shrines.

By Saturday, three teenagers were reported dead in Uasin Gishu County and a similar number in the neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet over circumcision-related complications.

The deaths in Uasin Gishu were uncovered following visits by health workers and local chiefs in four areas where circumcision took place.

A Public Health report dated December 6, and done after the visits in Kapseret indicated apart from the three deaths, five teenagers were fighting for their lives at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) Eldoret – one in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Health authorities said more deaths might not have been reported in the cultural practice where boys are transitioning to adulthood through the rite.

The deaths recorded in Uasin Gishu were preliminary, since visits to all seclusions kicked off yesterday, with more illnesses and deaths if any, expected to be made public this weekend.

On Wednesday this week, Uasin Gishu Chief Officer for Health Joyce Sang, in a memo, instructed health workers and county officials at the ward level to visit all the secluded areas where the initiation rites are happening.

Dr Sang instructed the workers to assess the hygienic and sanitation conditions of the circumcision shrines and to file reports of deaths.

“It has come to my attention that in November and December, several initiates have fallen sick after circumcision as a result of complications arising from the exercise,” the Chief Officer said.

She went ahead to say: “Further, it is saddening that several deaths have been recorded across the county over the same (circumcision).”

A preliminary report from Kapseret attributed the deaths to six causes among them, beatings and harsh conditions happening in some shrines.

Poor hygienic conditions, septic wounds and untreated water were also listed as causes of illnesses resulting in the deaths.

Other causes include poor handling of food as well as drunk and disorderly caretakers.

In Elgeyo Marakwet, Governor Wisley Rotich called for caution, urging caretakers to observe health standards.

“We have dispatched a team of medics to assess the situation across the county,” Rotich told The Saturday Standard on the telephone yesterday.

He said health teams at the Iten County Referral Hospital had confirmed the three deaths.

The County Chief asked caretakers to immediately report cases that needed specialist care.

Last year, Kalenjin elders led by Major (Rtd) John Seii said there was need for specialised care in environments where circumcision is conducted.

According to Mr Seii, very few deaths and initiates falling ill because of circumcision were recorded during the 1990s and before because the rites were done in seclusion, mostly in natural forests.

 “We are recommending that initiates’ parents and elders should link every mass initiation ceremony to a health facility so that closer monitoring of initiates is done. The circumcisers and caretakers should be professionals who are cautious about the health of initiates,” the elder said.

Last December, a teenager who had just completed his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) tests died after falling sick in what doctors attributed to lack of proper medical care after undergoing the traditional cut in Lelmokwo, Nandi County. Two others died in Eastleigh, Nairobi.

At least 16 others were treated at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.