Health & Fitness

Challenges Kenyan patients referred to hospitals abroad face

A kidney patient undergoes dialysis at a local hospital. Kenyans going abroad for specialised treatment have to deal with numerous challenges, including language barrier. PHOTO | FILE
A kidney patient undergoes dialysis at a local hospital. Kenyans going abroad for specialised treatment have to deal with numerous challenges, including language barrier. PHOTO | FILE 

Duncan Miheso could not imagine having to stay in a foreign country for more than a few weeks if not on work related trips or while on holiday.

However, this happened last year when he travelled to India as an organ donor for his sister who was to undergo a kidney transplant.

“Everything had been set by the time we left Kenya for her surgery but when we got there, the doctors had to do various tests before the surgery day,” he told the Business Daily. It is during the tests that doctors diagnosed a condition which his sister had lived with without knowing.

The doctors discovered a hole in her heart also known as ventricular septal defect or atrial septal defect, where one is born with the defect.

This came as a surprise to both doctors and the 40-year-old mother of three since she did not have prior problems pointing to the heart condition.


As fate would have it the condition needed to be treated first before undergoing a kidney transplant. This meant that Miheso would have to extend his stay until his sister recovered and ready for the other surgery.

“Doctors had scheduled her next surgery two months after the heart surgery, giving her that time to recover,” he says.
She, however, developed complications soon after the heart surgery due to a blood infection leading to her slipping into a coma for 49 days.

This was a setback for Miheso and his family who had to come up with additional money to pay for the treatment she was receiving at the hospital, which they had not anticipated.

Survival in foreign land

During this time, Miheso lived in a single room furnished hostel near the hospital which cost Sh2,000 a day in rent. This was one of the cheaper hostels as there were those going for Sh5,000 per day.

In the meantime, Miheso had informed his employer of the developments in India. The employer was kind enough to grant him paid leave for the 11 months he was in India.

He found his way around the city, especially markets that sold groceries he was familiar with because he used to cook for himself at the hostel.

“I had already gotten used to the life in India and had established some of the places to get good bargains when it came to food and accommodation,” says Miheso, adding that most Kenyans, who at the time went to India as organ donors, would often refer others to him if they needed help.

He acted as a consultant for foreign patients from Africa on various issues such as accommodation and transport costs while in India. Foreigners in the Asian country would often be charged higher than the locals for the services, he says.

He also gave them advice on where to buy some of prescribed medication at a cheaper rate than what was offered by the hospitals.

“I often got people referred to me whenever they wanted to confirm issues to do with the hospital bills or on legal paperwork,” he says. “There is a time when I questioned a bill and found out there are miscellaneous items that were not necessary.”

During his stay there he connected with the government officials and negotiated to get domestic rates for his sisters’ medical bill which had risen from Sh.3.5 million to Sh.7.8 million due to the complications that arose from her treatment.

Miheso’s first challenge was segregation due to the different cultures and communicating with people in India because most speak their local language.

Although communication barrier was still a major problem, he still made friends with some locals at the shops he frequented who helped him get his way around.

Another challenge, he says, was upon arrival at the hospital where they were required to have legal paperwork. The hospital demanded an affidavit signed by their spouses and parents consenting to the organ donation, before they could operate on a patient.

All these were not mentioned before departure to India. So they had to first send for the vital document from Kenya for organ donation surgery to proceed.

“Getting a local line in India took me one week so that I could communicate with my relatives back in Kenya to prepare and send the affidavits,” he says.

This is one of the reasons why he started a WhatsApp group called Apollo 2015 which has 256 members, to help other Kenyans seeking medical treatment in India get the right documentation before taking their trip as well as help them have easy transition while in India.

“I offer free consultation to anyone who needs it, seeing that it was hard for me to find my way in a foreign country, especially when it came to finding places that offered good bargains,” he says.

He also offers advice on billing at the hospitals and how to avoid delays arising from bureaucracy.

The WhatsApp group, he says, also helps connect Kenyans travelling to India share their experiences and expertise with those planning to go there.

Miheso’s sister is back in Kenya after a successful kidney transplant and is undergoing post-surgery treatment.