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KENYA: An expats’ guide to healthy living in Kenya

June 2019 Businessdaily; While Kenya is often thought of as a haven for wildlife and stunning natural landscapes, the quiet stability of the country has seen it become one of the most developed nations in Africa with the capital, Nairobi, established as a significant business hub in the eastern region of Africa.

With thriving industries in tourism, manufacturing and IT, Kenya has excellent opportunities for expatiates moving for work. But what can they expect from Kenya’s healthcare system, and what can be done to ensure a healthy lifestyle during their stay in the country?

Healthcare

While the government is prioritising improvements in healthcare, the quality and accessibility of healthcare in Kenya can dramatically vary depending on how close you are to a major city.

Public healthcare in Kenya is split across three types of facility, depending on the severity of the issue. Basic outpatient services such as colds and minor illness will be dealt with at dispensaries, which are run by nurses. If your issues are more severe, or you require vaccinations, you may be referred to a Health Centre. Finally, the most serious or complicated issues will be dealt with at one of the 47 county hospitals or the six national referral hospitals.

Pharmacies are common in major towns around the country. Non-specialist medications are both readily available and generally affordable. Expats on prescription should bring their existing supply and copies of their prescription when they arrive in the country.

To ensure the highest standards of public healthcare, expats will typically have to be located close to major towns and cities. Those elsewhere may find that they have to travel long distances to get the standard of care they require.

The highest quality care available in Kenya can be found at the range of private facilities based around the country. For this reason, the majority of expats tend to opt for private healthcare while living in Kenya. While it can be expensive, the increased levels of care, service, medical experience and hygiene this pays for is often considered to be worth the additional expense.

While smaller treatments are generally affordable, expats should still consider taking out international health insurance for larger procedures, which may require medical evacuations to more advanced facilities in nearby countries.

Health hazards and essential vaccinations.

As with most countries, Kenya has a series of recommended vaccinations for visitors. Malaria is a perennial risk and so expats should ensure that they have had the correct vaccinations before travelling to their new country. Standard immunisations against measles, mumps and rubella are recommended, as are immunisation against hepatitis A and typhoid. Avoidable diseases in the country also include cholera and malaria, both of which have vaccines that can be administered prior to travel.

As demonstrated by the vaccinations required, bites from insects are a significant health risk. Some illnesses, such as Dengue Fever do not have a vaccine, which means avoidance of bites is essential. As well as wearing long-sleeves where possible, expats should use repellents and mosquito nets to minimise unnecessary risks.

Another consideration is water quality, which can vary across regions. Expats could use specialist water filters that kill bacteria, but to be safe, should avoid drinking tap water wherever possible and stick to bottled water. This means being wary about eating food that could have been washed in tap water during preparation and having ice in drinks.

Healthy eating

One of the delights of travelling is experiencing local cultures and cuisine, but the reality is that you can’t eat like you are on holiday as an expat without damaging your health and your bank balance.

Luckily, Kenya is rich with local markets selling fresh, home-grown ingredients which are not only healthy, they are often significantly cheaper than their supermarket counterparts. Fresh fruit and vegetables are an easy way to ensure your diet is as healthy and balanced as possible.

Even better, many markets have local ingredients that you might not find in other regions, such as spices, okra, or pawpaws which can turn meal times from mundane into culinary adventures.

Well-being and mental health

As with many areas of the world, the reliance on technology in work and leisure have seen an increase in sedentary lifestyles, resulting in increasing cases of obesity and lifestyle-related illnesses like diabetes. This is no different in Kenya, but with such beautiful surroundings, expats will have more reason than ever to get outside and explore.

Exercise is a great way to boost mental health, with the number of ‘bad’ mental health days estimated to be reduced by more than ten percent with regular walking, it is all the more important to get outside in order to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

A great motivator for keeping fit is the incredible natural beauty of Kenya. Rural walking locations are always close at hand, but there are still plenty of opportunities to jog in the big cities. For example, Nairobi offers numerous options for walkers, joggers and cyclists of all abilities, such as Karura Forest on the outskirts of the city, or peaceful suburbs like Westlands.

From building a new diet, to developing an outdoor lifestyle, there are many ways for expats in Kenya to both enjoy a healthy diet and sustain a healthy lifestyle while they are living there.

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