Hernando Garzon, MD, in Nairobi: Shocking Conditions in an Urban Slum

Sept. 1, 2011


I worked in the Mathere slum in Nairobi for a month after post-election violence in 2008, and visited again in 2009 (when working in western Kenya). One would think that after such time here, I would be “used to it.” It is, however, still shocking to see the conditions under which our fellow humans live.

While so much of the media coverage of this Horn of Africa drought/famine shows malnutrition and famine in Somalia and the refugee camps in eastern Kenya and Ethiopia, it’s clear that there are other areas in both Ethiopia and Kenya which are also affected by drought and malnutrition.  What is also not well reported is that malnutrition rates in the slums in urban areas are also increasing — food is available, but people cannot afford the higher food prices. Rural malnutrition rates of 10-15 percent may sound worse than urban malnutrition rates of 2-3 percent, but consider this: That malnutrition rate of 15 percent in the rural areas may represent 3,000 children, but the urban rate of 3 percent may represent 12-15,000 children.  Because of this, we are also evaluating the needs of urban slum environments, and this is what prompted today’s visit, and the attached photos.

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Perhaps my most surreal experience of the day happened while walking through Mathere, when I saw a young man I had taken care of during the post-election violence here in 2008.  I recognized him first because of his amputated right arm, which he lost as a result of a traumatic machete attack 3 years ago. In contrast to the look of fear and terror which I remember so well in his face, and which was so common in all our patients here 3 years ago, he had a smile, looked at ease, and looked healthy. It was wonderful to speak with him, and amazingly heart-warming to see such a positive outcome.  Those few minutes reminded me how the efforts made to work in these environments is so worth while.

In other news, Relief International is proceeding with expanding the existing nutrition and health program in Galkayo, Somalia.  The plan is to develop a Maternal/Child Health program and a malnutrition program in Matabaan, a town about 70 miles south from Galkayo, in central Somalia.  While not visiting this site, I am helping to organize that program.

Thank you for reading.

Hernando Garzon, MD
Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Medical Center


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