Kenyans at home with traditional healers, herbalists

Traditional Giriama healers during a Careers and Investment exhibition in Malindi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Traditional Giriama healers during a Careers and Investment exhibition in Malindi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Majority of Kenyans rely on traditional healers and herbalists to diagnose ailments, a national household survey revealed, signifying desperation for affordable and widespread diagnostic services.

The diagnostic services provided in most hospitals remain too costly for most families, pushing them to seek alternatives from herbalists and traditional medicine men.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) survey showed that nationally, only 28.3 per cent of the population with sickness or injury visited professional workers at a health facility for diagnosis or ailment.

Contrastingly, diagnosis by a traditional healer and herbalist was reported by 31.4 per cent and 26.3 per cent, respectively, of the population with sickness or injury.

Traditional healers were most sought in West Pokot (75.5 per cent), Siaya (58.8 per cent), Migori (57.4 per cent), Kisumu (56.9 per cent) and Vihiga (52.8 per cent).


Herbalists carried out most of the diagnosis in Kakamega (46.2 per cent), Nakuru (44.6 per cent), Nyeri (43.1 per cent), Nandi (39.4 per cent) and Kiambu (38 per cent).

“The results show that a higher proportion of the urban population had their illnesses diagnosed by a health worker compared to their rural counterparts,” KNBS, however, noted.

Embu (68.6 per cent), Isiolo (67.3 per cent), Wajir (61.9 per cent), Uasin Gishu (52.5 per cent) and Mombasa (51.2 per cent) counties had high proportions of their population that reported diagnosis by a professional health worker.

High costs

Despite the majority turning to traditional healers and herbalists for diagnosis, treatment was provided in hospitals—an indication of the prohibitive cost of diagnostic services in health facilities.

Overall, 73.4 per cent of those who reported illness visited public health facilities (government hospitals, health centres and dispensaries). Rural areas had higher proportions (78.2 per cent) of those who visited public health facilities compared to urban areas (64.2 per cent).

Elgeyo/Marakwet County had the highest proportion (88.9 per cent) of those with illness or injury visiting public health facilities. Others with high proportion utilising government health facilities were Migori (87.4 per cent), Siaya (85.9 per cent), Kakamega (85.7 per cent) and Busia (85.6 percent).

On the other hand, Mombasa had the least proportion (38 per cent) of the population who reported sickness/injury visiting public health facilities for treatment and the highest proportion (53.6 per cent) of those seeking treatment from private hospitals or clinics.

“Visits to community health workers were prevalent among the sick in Mandera, Elgeyo/Marakwet and Siaya while visits to mission/faith based health facilities were mainly reported by individuals in Marsabit and Samburu counties,” KNBS noted.

The survey also revealed that most Kenyans are taking up curative and preventive care services.

Overall, 18 per cent and 4.2 per cent of Kenyans sought curative and preventive care services, respectively, with minor variations between rural and urban areas.

“Kakamega, Migori and Siaya counties recorded higher proportions of population seeking curative services while Migori and Kakamega had higher proportions of those seeking preventive care services,” the statistics office said.

Free medical services

There were significant variations in the proportion of population that received free medical services across the different services provided as well as across counties.

Majority (37.6 per cent) received maternal and child health care (MCH) services. The percentage of MCH services recipients was higher in urban than rural areas.

The proportion of the population that received free malarial services was 17.9 per cent and ranged from nil in Narok and Nyeri to a high of 73.2 per cent in Tharaka-Nithi. A relatively higher proportion of population in Siaya, Murang’a and Migori counties received free HIV/Aids services.