An expat guide to healthy living in Kenya

Healthcare

From experiencing delicious, locally-sourced food and making the most of the naturally beautiful outdoor locations, to ensuring you have all the recommended vaccinations, there are many ways to live a happy and healthy life as a new arrival in Kenya. To help expats maintain a healthy lifestyle, here are a few essential things to consider before moving there.

Health hazards and vaccinations

First and foremost, expats will need to ensure they have had all the essential and recommended vaccinations before moving to Kenya. Make sure you visit your local GP at least 8 weeks in advance to receive the standard immunisations, which can include:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever
  • Rabies
  • Meningitis
  • Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR)
  • TDAP (Tetanus, Diphtheria & Pertussis)
  • Chickenpox
  • Shingles
  • Pneumonia
  • Influenza
  • Polio

Due to a recent outbreak in cholera, this disease remains a very real threat for expats moving to Kenya, which is why it’s essential to also receive the right vaccination for this.

Malaria continues to be a risk in Kenya, and so expats should ensure that they have had the correct vaccination before making the move.

Dengue fever is also a risk in Kenya and is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccination for this which is why you should take preventative action. As well as wearing long-sleeves where possible, you should use repellents and mosquito nets to minimise unnecessary risks.

You’ll also need to consider the quality of water, which can vary from location to location, but as a general rule, you should avoid drinking tap water and stick to untampered, bottled water. This means that ice should also be avoided and expats should be wary about eating food that could have been rinsed in tap water during preparation.

This is because both food and water, if contaminated, can transmit a number of different infectious diseases such as cholera, hepatitis A, diarrhoea and typhoid. While it can be difficult to avoid contaminated food and water, hopefully these measures will help expats reduce the risk of becoming ill.

Quality of healthcare

The standard and accessibility of healthcare in Kenya varies greatly, mostly depending on location and whether the facility/service is public or private. The overall quality of the country’s public healthcare system is considered to be low when compared to western standards of public healthcare. Adding to this, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Kenya spends around $78 per capita on healthcare, against the sub-Saharan average of $97.7 per capita = further emphasising the country’s struggling public healthcare system.

While the government are prioritising improvements in healthcare, the majority of hospitals in Kenya are still understaffed, poorly equipped and lack supplies. Luckily, the country also operates a private healthcare system, and due to the demand for the accessibility of quality healthcare services, it means that private health facilities hold a prominent position in Kenya.

The majority of quality private hospitals, facilities and services are often found in the Kenya’s major cities. If you’re moving to a more rural part of Kenya, you may have to travel long distances to receive a high standard of care.

If you are not based in a city, expats may require medical evacuation to more advanced facilities in nearby countries if they are in need of larger medical procedures. This is why it can be a good idea to look into expat health insurance before you make the move, to ensure you have affordable and easy access to high quality medical facilities and services.

Mental health and wellbeing

The reliance on technology, both in the work-place and during leisure time have seen an increase in sedentary lifestyles, resulting in increasing cases of obesity and lifestyle-related illnesses across the globe. Unfortunately, Kenya is no exception to this. Blessed with beautiful landscapes, expats will have more reason than ever to get outside and explore.

It’s well-known that 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.

Luckily, one of the greatest motivators for keeping fit in Kenya is the incredible surroundings.

No matter where you are based in Kenya, rural walking locations are always close by. That said, 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 Karuna Forest on the outskirts of the city, or peaceful suburbs like Westlands.

Tsavo, Kenya
Tsavo, Kenya

Healthy diet

Many of the popular types of food in Kenya are made from fresh and healthy ingredients,offering plenty of choice for expats who want to maintain a healthy diet.

If you’re a meat-eater, you may enjoy Kenya’s national dish known as ‘nyama choma’ which literally means ‘burnt meat’. This dish consists of charcoal-grilled goat meat, beef or lamb and is widely served at social gatherings or celebrations. Goat meat is most commonly used in meat dishes, and it is leaner than most red meats – making it a better source of protein.

Another staple of the Kenyan diet is the vegetarian dish ‘ugali’ (a cake made from maize and water) served with ‘sukuma wiki’ (a green kale-like leaf, fried with tomatoes and red onions).

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.

Lamu market, Kenya
Lamu market, Kenya

Moreover, many markets in Kenya 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.

With home-grown, healthy food available in local markets, maintaining a healthy lifestyle in Kenya isn’t as difficult as you might think. From enjoying a new diet, to experiencing the beautiful outdoors and getting active, there are many ways for expats to enjoy a happy and healthy lifestyle while living in Kenya.

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