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Medicines in Kenya: Cure or Poison?

This Drug available at most hospitals here is prescribed under
restriction in the United States. The medicine is often
prescribed in non-deserving situations in the country.
Many of us do not like medicines or visiting health centres, not that we have a choice. When one is sick, they have to visit a health centre. It's at the health centres that one is given medicines, drugs that are expected to cure the ailment.

Prevention, we are told, is better than cure. For this reason, some of us will visit the health centres for preventive drugs - maybe we are a malaria prone area and are trying to limit our exposure to it.

Looking at the health sector in Kenya, it is far from reaching the health for all status. The country , like many of it's neighbours, faces an acute shortage of doctors. The number has steadily been rising over the years as the government tries to train more doctors to bridge the shortfall. However, bridging the shortfall has been made difficult by many countries that are ready to pay a premium for Kenyan Doctors, hence luring them away from the country.


To date, the country does not have enough doctors to serve in all it's public hospitals and health centres. I remember a few years ago that the nearest public hospital to my home had only one doctor available for specific days in a week.

Public hospitals in Kenya however still remain costly and beyond the reach of several Kenyans. Having a few friends and relatives working in the nearest hospital, the informed me that patients were often brought to die in the hospital - the curable ailments were often left to advance to a point they could not be cured. Residents often prefer visiting witch doctors as they believed that some of the ailments are a result of witchcraft.

As the country's economy continues to improve, more people are able to afford to visit hospitals. This  has resulted in the emergence of another crisis as  the effects of qualified shortage of staff bites in.

Clinical medical officers and nurses have taken over the role of doctors. Doctors say that most of the reported cases of Malaria and Typhoid consist of patients not necessarily suffering from the diseases. The diagnosis of these diseases has been hampered by under equipped labs and higher costs required for  proper tests.


Typhoid and Malaria: less common that taken to be
Doctors say that  typhoid patients require to be admitted and therefore all those 'typhoid' patients walking around can not be suffering from the disease.

Pharmaceutical companies have been quick to cash on this disparity. They know that most Kenyans will visit a health institution where they are less likely to see a   qualified doctor, and will therefore be misdiagnosed for these diseases. The misdiagnosis then presents an opportunity for them to market and supply drugs for these ailments.

Powerful drugs that go beyond healing
The problem comes in that some of the drugs prescribed are often very powerful and controversial. I discovered this recently when I visited South B Hospital where a 'doctor' with the help of a lab test discovered that I was suffering from 'typhoid'. I was then prescribed an antibiotic by the name of "Levox ".

About a week into the prescription, other new symptoms, characterised by body and joint pains emerged. At this point , I visited the more costly Aga Khan Hospital - thankfully, health insurance at work was footing the bill. More tests here revealed that I was not suffering from typhoid. The doctor advised hat they could not determine what I was initially suffering from as the powerful drugs I had been prescribed would have cured it by then. The symptoms I was suffering from were probably as a result of the antibiotics, and I should stop taking them.

A Google search revealed that Levofloxacin, the active ingredient in Levox is restricted in the United States and comes with two 'Blackbox' warnings. In fact, the drug has even led to one of the manufacturers been sued for damages. The drug is said to cause muscle tendon damage and will lead to rupturing of tendons for several patients, especially the elderly ones. The tendon damage usually requires corrective surgery. Even worse, the pains and probability of tendon rupture will last for several months after one stops medication.

Levofloxacin based drugs and other counterparts usually have several major side effects  that patients should be advised against.It is recommended that any patient experiencing the symptoms should immediately stop taking the drugs and seek further medical advice. This does not happen in Africa where both health professionals and patients are barely aware of such issues.

Levofloxacin is usually prescribed to Anthrax patients and other hard-to-treat bacteria.

Most patients are usually very trusting of modern medicine and are not aware that they come with side effects. Few are even aware that various drugs will place stress on the kidneys, especially common over the counter creams. Prolonged use of such medications continues weakening the kidney which treats them as toxics that need to be rid off the body.

Multi-drug resistant diseases
Another result of the theatrics of our medical sector has been multi drug resistance in several common diseases, such as malaria. When the government's intention to allow over the counter use of malaria drugs, again, pharmaceuticals end up as the biggest beneficiaries. Patients buy the drugs at will, even when probably suffering from exhaustion, and take incomplete doses. Some are prescribed by friends who have become experts at prescription of over the counter medicines, with no clear instructions on dosages. It does not help that pharmacies are run by non-qualified personnel who also have no idea about the dosages and effects of such. Over several years, the diseases soon adapt to be resistant to common drugs while pharmaceutics sell drugs to healthy people. Soon, the drugs have to be replaced by even more costly drugs as the disease become resistant, presenting another opportunity for pharmaceuticals to make higher mark ups.

It's time the government steeped in to stop the circus. Crack down on unqualified personnel in the health sector and come up with stringent rules on use of drugs. The public also need to be educated on proper drug use. Drugs are not candy.

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