culture and customs
family life
social change
social relationships
spiritual beliefs

introducing the area


 quotes about health
 key testimonies featuring health

Kenyan woman and childDiscussions about healthcare, like other themes in these testimonies, highlight a gradual shift from traditional to modern methods, and some associated tensions. Family planning is talked about by several female narrators. It seems modern methods have until recently been largely rejected. "There are some that fear going [to family planning centres] because of what their friends have experienced like backaches, chest problems, giving birth to deformed children, and this has scared them off," (Kenya 1) revealed one woman. Another claimed: "What we know, is that the modern family planning methods are the major causes of diseases." (Kenya 2) Others explained that contraception was a private subject and that they were uncomfortable about open discussion of such matters. The traditional method of family planning seems to have been abstention for periods of time, especially after childbirth, with the husband moving between wives. But a few narrators point out that such "spacing" is not foolproof, and a wife cannot refuse her husband sex. One female narrator says: "...when a man is in the mood, even if you say, 'I am unsafe', he cannot accept it" (Kenya 8) . Economics is now forcing a reduction in family size, and more people are adopting modern methods of contraception, but narrators still spoke positively about the benefits of large families.

Women continue to give birth in the home, only going to hospital if there are complications. Modern medicine is clearly welcomed in the fight against more serious illnesses. But the high cost of treatment is a major cause for concern and poor roads make access to the area's limited facilities even more difficult. Use of traditional cures, which have the advantage of being less costly and locally available, has not completely died out.

Few narrators mention HIV/AIDS, which probably reflects social discomfort at open discussion of the topic. Though one narrator does say that previously acceptable levels of extra-marital affairs are frowned upon now because of the worry of HIV/AIDS. The illness is seen to be related to what one narrator describes as "the immorality in the society right now", with many older people complaining about the promiscuity of youth today. Another health issue, and one that is now becoming more "visible", is disability. One narrator describes how in the past, disabled children kept in the house, away from view. Some parents would even abandon disabled offspring, it was seen as so shameful a matter. One mother told how when she gave birth to a disabled child, her in-laws and husband rejected her. Attitudes have been changing, though, due to outside influences and activities. When missionaries built some schools for the handicapped locally: " was then that we realised that so much could be done to alleviate the lives of our handicapped children".

quotes about health

"According to our culture, family planning issues were not supposed to be spoken about openly in a meeting. They were considered private and indecent."
Lois, F, retired civil servant, Kenya 3

"On the positive part, we feel proud to be in Mount Elgon because we are not generally affected by malaria, though there is the element of highland malaria, which is highly pronounced. This happens seasonally, especially when the maize is flowering, because this can attract hideouts for mosquitoes, and the prevailing winds tend to blow towards the sides. So the maize and coffee plantations can be suitable places for mosquitoes to hide and breed. This subsequently causes malaria in people who have never been affected."
Wycliffe, M/37, schools inspector, Kenya 19

".the herbalist could be surviving because medical facilities are not easily accessible here. The high cost of modern medicine has also turned people away from them. You know that even original herbalists did not actually charge so much for their services. And usually a person paid after he had recovered. One would pay a cow, goat, sheep or even chicken if that herbalist wanted money. But they are still cheaper in comparison with the cost of modern medicine.But I feel that modern and traditional medicine are playing a complementary role."
Joseph, M/86, former pastoralist - now a farmer, Kenya 13

"...the Sabaot, to a great extent, are very lucky to be occupying this mountainous region, because in this area we don't have many diseases. Even a common disease like malaria is not very common in this area. But the few hospitals that we have somehow take care of the people, although I cannot say that we have adequate medical facilities. But previously Sabaot solely depended on herbal medicine. The disease that gave our herbalists the greatest challenge was smallpox, which wiped out nearly whole families. We are grateful that this disease is no longer here today. "
Hezron, M/48, village elder, Kenya 14

"Another difficult thing in the past was when somebody broke a limb. This was a very difficult situation to handle. The general improvement of medical facilities has seen to it that diseases that used to afflict people in the past have been minimised. Presently the major scare in the community is the dreaded AIDS disease, for which seemingly no cure has been found. As parents, we are very much worried because of the immorality in the society right now, and we fear AIDS might wipe out whole communities."
Hezron, M/48, village elder, Kenya 14

key testimonies featuring health

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1   Lydia   Female/24   Teacher     
Summary Transcript   10   Ann   Female/47   Farmer/housewife/widow     
Summary Transcript   13   Joseph    Male/86   Former pastoralist now a farmer     
Summary Transcript   14   Hezron   Male/48   Village elder     
Summary Transcript   16   Jane   Female/36   Teacher   Kapsokwony  
Summary Transcript   2   Dina and Margaret   Female/42   Dispossessed farmers     
Summary Transcript   21   Joseph   Male/39   Farmer   Chepkuyi, Kibuk  
Summary Transcript   3   Lois   Female/   Retired Civil Servant/ Electoral co-ordinator     
Summary Transcript   7   Zipora   Female/47   Housewife   Kamtiong  
Summary Transcript   8   Mary   Female/30   Farmer/petty trader   Kapsokwony market  
Summary Transcript   9   Patrola   Male/45   Cooked food vendor   Kamtiong