Eight-year-old Faith Kipkurui experiences shortness of breath as she basks in the sun at their Sirikwa home in Kuresoi. Lying on a sack, she is restless and her excruciating pain leaves her father, Abraham Mutai, with haunted, sunken eyes.
Faith, the fifth of six children, suffers from congenital heart disease (hole in the heart) that forms during the development of the foetus. The condition is characterised by incomplete closure of the walls between the heart’s chambers.
Faith was diagnosed with the condition at Tenwek Mission Hospital when she was two in 2015. She suffers constant body swelling, delayed speech development and inability to sit or walk. Her lungs and liver could fail.
Her treatment cost Sh204,000, subjecting the family to emotional and financial difficulty. Her father can hardly afford the monthly Sh500 required for a National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) medical cover.
- 1 Wycliffe Oparanya: Stop NHIF registration in counties
- 2 Board teachers to get pay as Sh15b released
- 3 Doctors demand extensive health cover amid Covid-19 fears
- 4 Claims of abortion, rape, rock police unit
A paediatric cardiologist says Faith’s heart condition can be managed, but not cured.
Mutai, a casual labourer, has since turned to traditional herbs prescribed by a herbalist for alternative treatment.
“I do not have money. I have sold all my livestock, leaving me in abject poverty and unable to take my daughter to the hospital,” laments Mutai, who so far owes the herbalist Sh2,000 and a sheep.
But experts don’t recommend the use of herbs to treat heart conditions.
Prof Christine Jowi, a paediatric cardiologist at the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Nairobi, says, “There is no evidence of herbs opening and closing a hole in the heart. Herbs cannot be used for treatment (of heart conditions). Herbal medicine can actually end up being toxic and worsen a heart condition.”
Faith was placed on a regular check-up. Mutai laments that besides transport cost, casual jobs like weeding and the small scale-farming he practices cannot raise enough money for his daughter’s treatment.
“This disease has left us all sick. At times we blame God and even plead for His forgiveness if we ever wronged Him or anyone,” he cries.
Prof Jowi warns that treating heart disease is expensive due to the medical supplies and human resources involved.
“It costs more than Sh1 million,” she said, warning that sore throats should be diagnosed at earlier stages and treated because they are a red flag.
Besides heart conditions, children also suffer from diabetes which, for ages, has been mistakenly associated with the relatively wealthy and elderly.
Take Reuben Shalom, 16, for instance. He was diagnosed with diabetes when he was in Standard Six and his mother, Lucy Kaguri from Racecourse estate in Nakuru County, has endured sleepless nights for more than five years.
Reuben is now in Form Two. His chronic disease was diagnosed when he began experiencing general body weakness, vision problems, high intake of water and frequent urination.
“I am a ‘watchman’ and a nurse to my son,” says Kaguri. “At times, he faints at night, forcing me to rush him to hospital for management.”
The family was forced to seek counselling to accept his condition which is managed with, among others, a glucometer which cost Sh4,500. His monthly medical costs include Sh2,100 on insulin, Sh5,000 on stripes and Sh750 on syringes. Every three months, the family also spends Sh1,500 on check-ups.
“Apart from drugs, diet is key for my son. He limits the uptake of sugar and I also stock my house with soda to boost his sugar levels whenever the need arises,” says Kaguri.
For Margaret Kroito from Mosuro village in Baringo South, managing her son’s diabetes has seen her sell off livestock, her only source of income.
Bill Ngoyoni, her Class Six son, requires Sh400 daily for examination at Marigat Hospital, about 120 kilometres away. Then there is Sh2,000 every month for insulin.
“Life is too tough for me. I cannot meet my son’s medical costs despite selling my 10 goats,” says the widow who has resorted to small-scale vegetable production to raise cash.
Due to lack of proper medication, Ngoyoni has lost his sight.
“I am forced to accompany my son to the hospital, take him to the house and at times, help him feed because he is learning to live without sight,” says Kroito.
Dr Eric Njenga, a diabetes specialist at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, explains that diabetes is a lifelong non-communicable disease triggered when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.
Dr Njenga says there are two categories of diabetes, namely, type 1 (which affects children and those under 40) and type 2, which is common in adults.
Type 1 diabetes, he says, requires daily administration of insulin to regulate glucose levels for survival, while type 2 diabetes is managed through proper diet and exercise. But regular checkups are encouraged to avert heart attacks, strokes, amputations, kidney failure, loss of vision and nerve damage.
“People with diabetes are encouraged to exercise, avoid high intake of carbohydrates, fats and sugar. Early diagnosis through blood test and maintaining a healthy body weight are also crucial,” says Dr Njenga.