Its traditional herbs for treatment as Tana River hospitals run of medicine

Traditional medicine

Bottles containing traditional medicine and drugs on display at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Some residents of Tana River County have resorted to using traditional herbs and salt to treat illnesses and minor injuries after hospitals and dispensaries ran out of medical supplies.

The shortages, now in the third month, have left residents desperate, relying on hospitals only for diagnosis.

More than 15 dispensaries and four health centres, including the county referral hospital, have reported a lack of drugs.

County Health executive Javan Bonaya said there is no money to buy drugs.

"We have noted the shortage and it's not just our county affected. Several counties are suffering the same problem, but I can assure our people that we are working a way out of it and that shall be resolved soon," he said. 

In Charidende village, residents claim that the county administration has not disbursed drugs to the local dispensary for nearly a year and they have resorted to traditional ways of treating illnesses.

"We boil roots and herbs to treat stomach illnesses, malaria and even to control high blood pressure. Had we not thought about this in time, many would have died, especially the elderly," said Mohammed Kushushu.

He said certain roots and herbs mixed with milk or honey can treat up to six illnesses, but they rely on the local health officer to get an accurate diagnosis first.

For example, he said drinking black tea mixed with some herbs helps blood flow and takes care of the kidney.

"We have seen hard times. The elders here had to take us through these skills of our ancient past so that we could survive," he said.

Elderly men and women process traditional medicine because only they know the right procedures. These concoctions are way cheaper than modern drugs from a pharmacy. 

Fatma Harun, an elder, said a cup of any mixture sells for only Sh30 and is taken once a day for three days.

In Peponi village, the hospital has not served its purpose for the past two years, with drugs supplied to the area always getting finished barely a week after arrival.

"Drugs have never lasted a week in this dispensary. We don't know the quantity they supply to our area. We are left wondering what happens to drugs dispatched to this side," said Monica Dhadho.

Residents also noted that as soon as the drugs are depleted at the dispensary, local shops happen to get fresh supplies.

They claim that some of the shops are owned by the committee members of individual dispensaries but it is difficult to trace ownership as they are registered under distant relatives and dead people.

This raises suspicions that the shop owners could be involved in the theft of drugs from the local dispensary.

"How else would you explain the disappearance of drugs within 24 hours if not by internal fraud perpetuated by the management of these facilities? It is a syndicate that needs to be investigated," said Joshua Bonaya.

At Hola Referral Hospital, locals say doctors have been referring them to private pharmacies to buy drugs, as the hospital pharmacy ran out of drugs.

They said the hospital only provides diagnosis services and recommends drugs that sell at high prices on the streets. 

"The person attending to you will even tell you the pharmacy where you can find the drugs, but we can't blame them, the pharmacy is empty, anyone can see that when you peep through the window and it’s not their responsibility to procure drugs," said Anne Malonza.

Locals said the last time the county administration supplied drugs to the dispensary was nearly a year ago, with KDF soldiers recently supplying basic drugs for children and for common illnesses. 

"If we get injured, we use salt to treat ourselves or herbs, because travelling to the health centre in Garsen demands a lot of money, which we don't have," said Mohammed Godana.

Mr Godana blames the political season for the shortages, noting that leaders should have planned for such moments.

They appealed to the governor to stock the main hospital and health centres with drugs.

"Things like drugs should have been budgeted for way earlier. Buy drugs in bulk and stock them. This idea of going to politics and forgetting the welfare of the people is not good," said elder Adan Barke. 

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