Why Rwandans are living longer than Kenyans

By Gatonye Gathura

Rwandans are now living longer than Kenyans after finding out what experts say are secrets of a healthier life.

In Kenya, the regional economic powerhouse, life expectancy is currently 63 years, one year ahead of neigbours Uganda and Tanzania but less than the 65 in Rwanda.

In a futuristic health roadmap for Africa launched in Nairobi on Thursday experts said the continent has only a narrow opportunity to achieve longer and healthier lives such as experienced in the rest of the world.

“Most of the current models for health care delivery is a sure recipe for failure,” said Dr Alex Ezeh, the Executive Director of the Nairobi based African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC).

The roadmap by The Lancet Commission on the future of health in Sub-Saharan Africa shows countries with strong disease prevention strategies to have healthier populations which are living longer lives.

The roadmap: The path to longer and healthier lives for all Africans by 2030, for example shows two thirds of Rwandans are likely to use an improved toilet, wash hands and live in a cleaner environment compared to only a third of Kenyans.

While tiny Rwanda with just about one doctor for 20,000 people has almost all its children fully immunised, Kenya with three times the number of physicians still has a third of children missing lifesaving vaccines.

With devolution Kenya has thrown huge amounts of money to medical infrastructure and technologies but is still struggling with basic health problems including more than 70,000 new HIV infections annually.

“We are very worried about the persisting high rates of new HIV infections, despite our big spend in treatment and medicines,” said Dr Nduku Kilonzo, head of the National Aids Control Council.

Kenya’s major donor to HIV, the US government, has in recent years moved its money from prevention to treatment with emphasis on medicines and medical devices.

“That is alright, donors can put money on their preferences but we have now shifted our focus to prevention as opposed to the medicalization of HIV,” said Dr Nduku.

The Lancet Commission explained Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the UK medical journal The Lancet, was a four-year effort by health experts mainly from Africa to prescribe how the continent can achieve the UN led Sustainable Development Goals.

“With simple, available and affordable everyday solutions African can achieve longer and healthier lives by 2030,” said Dr Myriam Sidibe of Unilever, Nairobi, and co-founder of the Global Handwashing Day marked every October 15.

Diarrhea and pneumonia, the health ministry and other evidence shows are among the top killers of children in the region.

“To prevent them, we don’t need the latest technologies but one of the oldest inventions – a bar of soap. Washing hands reduces diarrhea by half and respiratory disease by a third,” said Dr Sidibe.

Kenyans, Dr Sidibe who claims to hold a PhD in handwashing, says should adopt good hygiene as they have done with mobile phones.

The Kenya Malaria Indicator Survey 2015 shows a mobile phone as the most sought after possession in Kenya, many times ahead of a toilet or even the widely owned radio.

The survey shows 90 per cent of all Kenyan households and 97 per cent in urban areas own a mobile phone compared to only 28 per cent of households with an improved toilet.

To entice Kenyans to adopt simple hygiene measures, like the Rwandans, the Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Policy 2016-2030 suggests launching an Open Defecation Free (ODF) Status Award.

The award in the form of financial incentives will be presented to all counties and villages that achieve and sustain an ‘open defecation free’ status.


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