Love, poverty, snakes, guns: Kenya’s deadly mixture

Poverty, love, snakes and guns, research shows have become a major cause of illnesses and loss of lives in Kenya.

Local, international and regional reports in the last 10 days show the four to have become serious cause of illness and deaths in Kenya than previously thought.

On Monday a medical report showed snakebites, domestic conflict and love affairs as a significant cause of both accidental and intentional poisoning in Western Kenya.

The study at one of the region’s major referral facility, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital, investigated 385 recent cases of poisoning at the hospital.

Love affairs

Majority of the cases, the study says were caused by snakebites and intentional poisoning due to family conflicts and love affairs gone badly.

But it also showed high rates of suicidal poisoning among men, using domestic and agricultural pesticide for what the study suggests is poverty and lack of employment leading to stress and desperation.

Unemployment and poverty, the report said had especially put a huge burden on men expected by society provide but who can no longer meet societal obligations.

“This may predispose them to self-harm by poisoning, and may partly explain why most victims in the study area were male,” says the study led by Mitchel Otieno Okumu of the referral hospital.

An earlier study on poisoning admissions at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), with referrals from across Kenya, similarly showed increasing cases of self poisoning among breadwinning males.

About 60 per cent of acute poisoning patients at KNH, the report by Dr David Gitonga Nyamu of the University of Nairobi showed to be males most of them aged 21-30.


More deaths from suicides, but this time affecting the elderly were reported last week by the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the University of Oxford of the UK.

The study carried out in Kilifi at the Coast, showed the highest rates of suicides to be among males aged 64 or more. The researchers suggested these findings may be a reflection of suicide trends in rural Kenya.

In the report published last week (29th August) in BMC Psychiatry the authors say these suicides were preceded by stress, poverty and chronic illnesses and may be prevalent across rural Kenya.

Of 104 suicide deaths studied in the area, those among men were twice as many as for women and tended to increase with age and poverty.

The reports of increasing suicides among Kenya’s poor elders comes at a time the State Department of Social Protection, says to have spent over Sh27 billion in cash transfers to the elderly.

The cash transfer was launched in 2008 to cushion the elderly – over 65 years – against the effects of abject poverty.

It also comes five years since the Jubilee Government removed user fees from dispensaries and health centers across Kenya to allow the old and poor more access to medical care.

The Kilifi study found most of the old who had committed suicide to have had a history of cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

However for such conditions, most dispensaries and health centers, normally designed to offer basic primary care have no capacity to handle.

Coincidentally last week, on 28th August a global survey listed Kenya among six countries in Africa with highest number of deaths from firearms.


Covering 195 countries, ‘The Global Mortality from Firearms, 1990-2016,’ report listed Kenya, with 1090 deaths from firearms in 2016, after South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria, DR Congo and Tanzania in the continent.

Most of these firearms resultant deaths were linked to homicides, with smaller numbers indicated for suicides and accidental events.

One of the data sets used to compile the global report came from the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey which in July said the number of guns in civilian hands in Kenya has now jumped from 680,000 in 2016 to 750,000.

Out of the 750,000 private firearms, only 8,136 are registered, representing a paltry one per cent, the survey said. This means that a majority of private guns or 99 per cent are held illegally.

Last year Dr Gladwell Koku Gathecha, the head of Violence and Injury Prevention Unit at the Ministry of Health reported that 15 per cent of deaths in Nairobi County were a result of firearms.

Her report showed death from fire arms was the second greatest killer of males aged between 20 and 44 after death by blunt objects in Nairobi.

Worried over increasing cases of deaths from injuries, violence and poisoning the Ministry of Health in January published the National Violence and Injury Prevention and Control Action Plan 2018 – 2022.

The report shows that injuries affect Kenyans differently. The poorest, the plan says are most likely to be murdered, assaulted or commit suicide while middle income Kenyans are likely to be involved in road accidents with the rich prone to severe falls.

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