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Poor transport network increases Lamu healthcare woes

boat

A speed boat on Lamu Island. According to the NCPD, the county has the highest burden of maternal deaths due the poor road and transport networks. PHOTO | FILE

Summary

  • A huge portion of the residents’ income is spent on transport leaving little to meet their basic needs such as healthcare.

For a first time visitor in Lamu County the cool atmosphere, hospitable attitude of its people and the signature donkey transport give the impression of an easy life.

What most people do not know, however, is that Lamu is among the most expensive regions in Kenya despite its low population.

A huge portion of the residents’ income is spent on transport leaving little to meet their basic needs such as healthcare.

Lamu Archipelago is made up of more than 10 Islands hundreds of kilometres apart, including the Lamu Old Town, Faza, Pate, Kizingitini, Kiwayu, Mkokoni, Ndau, Kipungani, Matondoni and Manda.

The main mode of transport is speed boats and families with patients facing emergencies are forced to pay an arm and a leg to rush their loved ones to the few hospitals available.

Highest burden

There are only 10 ambulances for the county’s 128,310 people. Six operate on land and four that are boats traverse the islands to respond to emergencies.

Mr Fadhil Ahmed, a Kiwayu resident said one is required to pay between Sh 10,000 to 15,000 to hired speed boat to take patients across the vast ocean to the Lamu King Fahad County Hospital when the ambulances are responding to other emergencies, which can take anywhere between three and three and a half hours.

“During emergencies where you are bound by the circumstance to hire a private speed boat, one can spend up to Sh 15,000 on one-way boat transport,” said Mr Fadhil.

For those living in the mainland areas of Mpeketoni, Witu, Hindi and Mokowe, one incurred double the transport cost.

The family first hire a vehicle to Mokowe Jetty before spending another amount to take a patient across the ocean to Lamu King Fahad County Hospital, the only level four healthcare centre in the county, which is located on the Island.

Both government and non-governmental organisation have tried to ease transport challenges, but the situation is far from ideal.

“We have done our best to secure the lives of our people since we took over in 2013,” said County Health Chief Officer, Dr Mohamed Abubakar.

The official said it has not helped the situation that the county gets among the lowest financial allocations from the national government based on the calculations of the Commission on Revenue Allocation.

In the 2016-2017 financial year, for instance, the county is set to receive Sh2.6 billion.

According to the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD), Lamu is among six counties from a group of 15 with the highest burden of maternal deaths in the country, contributing 98.7 per cent of the total deaths in Kenya.

Among the key reasons for the high maternal and child deaths is the poor road and transport networks since they make it a challenge for the women to reach medical facilities on time.

Expensive and hectic

“Transporting a pregnant woman using an ambulance boat or any other speed boat is both expensive and hectic.

That’s why we prefer traditional birth attendants in our villages since we don’t have cash to spend on transport,” said Mrs Zuwena Fankupi, an expectant mother from Kizingitini.

In an effort to address the entire situation, the county government has already embarked on improving services in all its dispensaries and health centres in the county.

According to Lamu Governor Issa Timamy, more than Sh100 million has so far been spent in the past three years to upgrade the various health centres in the region in order to improve health service delivery at the grassroots.

In the meantime a hospital in Mokowe, whose infrastructure size compares to Kenyatta National Hospital continues to be underutilised.

The hospital, which cost millions of shillings to construct during the tenure of former president Daniel arap Moi, currently offers basic health services after being abandoned for close to three decades.

If the plans underway by both the national and county governments to fully rehabilitate and operationalise the facility are fast tracked, it would go a long way in providing relief for many residents living in Mokowe, Hindi, Mpeketoni and Witu.

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