Help comes to police officers grappling with ailments, disabilities

Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai:  

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

Police officers with disabilities and those suffering from other illnesses acquired in the line of duty can now seek transfers to their home counties to serve near their families as they continue with treatment.

The National Police Service Commission (NPSC) is conducting medical assessments of officers in the Coast region.

Apart from the Eastern and Western regions, NPSC has conducted similar assessments in the Rift Valley, Nairobi, Nyanza, North Eastern, Central and the Coast

NPSC has established that 800 officers in these regions are suffering from different diseases, including injuries from road accidents and bombs in terror attacks. Some have lost their eyes, ears and limbs.

“But for those living with disabilities, the Inspector-General of police has made arrangements that many of them are now in places where they can access hospitals,” said NPSC vice-chairperson Dr Alice Otwala.

NPSC, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and the National Police Service, has established a special medical board to assess sick officers and those injured in the line of duty.

“NPSC is looking at how best we can assist the officers who suffer the unfortunate situations. The medical board consists of professional doctors of various categories who are now treating them throughout the country,” Dr Otwala said.

“The numbers are growing. Some were killed and others maimed. Every day is a new day for police officers.”

Some of the diseases, she said, have left them incapable of performing their normal duties. Other common diseases include diabetes, stroke, neurological disorders.

“One of the conditions of employment in the service is that they must be whole and fit in their medical tests, but over some time, due to the nature of their work, they acquire illnesses and disabilities from accidents and attacks while defending us,” Dr Otwala explained. 

Speaking during an assessment of officers at the Kenya School of Government in Mombasa, NPSC said police work subjects them to a lot of stress and danger.

NPSC has also recruited counsellors and social workers to work alongside police officers grappling with different conditions.

“Police officers will have access to the counsellors at our cost. We are giving them opportunities to discuss with the IG’s office and the commission on areas of concern to offer support and be able to deduce areas of policy direction,” she said.

Dr Otwala said that in a group of 105,000 police officers, less than one percent are unwell.

“These are not normal sicknesses like malaria. We are talking about diseases that disable them from their normal work. These are the ones we are targeting. There are a few but we needed to have a doctor to establish that,” she said.

A good medical insurance cover, she said, is crucial and that had been addressed by the IG's office.

NPSC has hired 59 counsellors, with at least one in every county.  

Officers dealing with mental illnesses will be assessed and given treatment and psychosocial support.

“The Coast region contributes a lot to the disease burden that police officers carry,” said Coast Regional Commissioner John Elungata.

“You know that we have fought terror and wildlife attacks. I am sure several police officers have been bitten by snakes. We also have the sea and we have our challenges there.”

The National Police Service chief medical officer, Dr John Kibosia, said their primary responsibility is to assess officers with challenges and recommend appropriate measures.

“Where we also feel they can benefit from retiring early we recommend (it). We have many consultants. Some are looking after police officers' physical illnesses or disabilities and three consultant psychiatrists from Moi University,” Dr Kibosia said.

Dr Edith Kwobah, a consultant psychiatrist and head of mental health at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, decried mental illnesses in the police service. 

“Police officers and those in the military are twice at risk because of the nature of their work. The problem is sometimes you are not aware you are sick. As colleagues, are you able to notice if one of you is mentally ill? As a society, we judge harshly,” Dr Kwobah said. 

She called for self-awareness and the creation of social support systems to help officers deal with the challenges. 

“Sometimes you see very senior people kill themselves and then you wonder why. It’s because they are human. They can get so distressed and can't get away from dealing with their problems. Mental health challenges are common even in the police service but help is available,” she added.

She warned men in service against tackling their challenges with alcohol and being aggressive, urging them instead to develop problem-solving skills and seeking treatment.