Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Kenya are estimated to cause 27% of total deaths . Treatments for hypertension medication annually costs anywhere from US $26 to US $234, and US $418 to US $987 in public and private facilities. Diabetes medications, equipment and diagnostics can cost anywhere from US $41.95 in public facilities and US $382.91 in private facilities. As the number of people with diabetes (41 million expected by 2045) and hypertension is also on the rise, in Kenya and throughout the world, 9.4 million deaths from complications are to be expected every year.
Given that the average Kenyan makes an average of KES 684,097.00 (or about US $6,817) a year, the cost of drugs and care from these two diseases is more than most families can afford.
Maurice Ochieng, the Secretary General of Umuja, a diabetes and hypertension support group, is one of many people in his neighbourhood who suffers from both diseases. He spends KES 1,500 ($15) monthly on Metformin tablets and he gets his Glibenclamide tablets from a government clinic at no cost both to treat his Type 2 diabetes.
“I found out I had an NCD when I was developing eye complications, so I went for a check up and that’s when I was told I have diabetes type 2,” wrote Maurice in his email about his experiences with NCDs.
He was 31 when he found out about his diabetes and has been living with it for the last five years. When he learned that he was diabetic, he had a lot of misconceptions about the condition so he was advised to join the group by the clinician who used to treat him so that he could get information from other people living with the same condition. The group shares ideas on how to better manage their conditions, and they create awareness on NCDs in the community as ambassadors. They also come together to buy diabetes equipment because the biggest problem they face is the lack of drugs in the government health centre. For this reason, members of the group have to privately buy drugs at very expensive prices.
Since finding out about his disease he has started on a weight management programme, which guides him through the ways of proper nutrition and exercise so that he could reduce his weight. “Now I’m feeling young and energetic after achieving my target,” wrote Maurice.
Like many Kenyans, Maurice had to lose weight to control his NCD. About 6% of Kenyans are obese and this percentage has gone up by nearly 4% in a decade. Worldwide, about 39% of adults were overweight in 2016 and 13% were obese.
Kevin Ngereso, a Field Programme Officer with the Kenya Red Cross Society, said in an interview that as much as he is trying to help prevent NCDs, much of the work he does is around care and support for the conditions. “People can be in hospital because the training that clinicians have is focused on infectious disease. The system is getting ready for NCDs but the money is not there yet,” said Kevin.
Though a lot of Kevin’s time is spent working at the community level, he is also responsible for training public health workers on diagnosing NCDs and facilitating psychosocial support services for NCD sufferers. He said that education is the most important part of his job – for the volunteers of the Red Cross, for public health workers and for the individual NCD sufferers he sees.
Dorothy Anjuri, the Public Health Managerat the Kenya Red Cross Society, agreed with Kevin’s assessment. “Building capacity and the skill set of everyone from NCD patients to partners will help Kenya move forward,” she said in an interview adding that there was still a long way to go. She mentioned that until recently, NCDs were not prioritised but that the Kenya Red Cross Society was filling the gap to ensure that patients are supported.
With an unemployment rate of 7.4% in March in Kenya, many people are struggling to balance their disease and grocery bills. Maurice, who works as an electronics engineer doing repairs on mobile phone and sells accessories, can afford to pay for some of his medications where others would not. Dorothy said that though good things are happening, there is still not enough money for primary care.
Maurice is one of the examples of what a good level of support can bring about. He has his diabetes under control and says that he loves to seek more knowledge on how to manage the condition. He also seeks a variety of opinions from different fields to help him with his disease.
“Being an NCD sufferer one tends to think that it’s a life sentence. So many resources are used when acquiring medication and doctors’ appointments,” wrote Maurice.
It is something that Dorothy and Kevin echoed, mentioned the lack of availability of drugs, equipment and capacity to deal with the diseases they see everyday.
“The ground is set in Kenya for everyone to treat their NCD, but we must have a system that is fair to everyone,” said Dorothy.