In Sickness Or In Wealth

By Brittany Boroian, Kiva Fellow Class 12 with Faulu Kenya in Nairobi, Kenya

It all started last Monday with a cold. I downed orange juice, popped some sudafed, and went through two boxes of tissues.

A day later, I found myself in St. Theresa’s Ward of Nairobi Hospital.

Monday night my cold continued to get worse, which wasn’t too helpful considering I had a huge report to write for work and I had already missed one day. Sleeping proved to be impossible, and I stayed up until 5 AM trying every remedy I could think of– hot showers, cups upon cups of hot tea and honey- even boiling water with menthol and huddling with it under a blanket (a trick I learned in India), trying to clear my sinuses. Nothing doing. This cold was relentless and here to stay.

When I was finally able to catch a few hours of sleep, I woke up on Tuesday morning with a splitting headache and burning throat. I promptly decided it was time for a trip to the doctor’s office (one that had been recommended by a Kiva coordinator).
As soon as I arrived at the doctor’s office, my head quite suddenly began throbbing so painfully that my eyes watered. I found myself gasping for breath, my head spinning and my skin turning clammy- and as I always think of the worst when I’m ill, at that moment I absolutely convinced myself that I had cerebral malaria (I had been in malaria-prone Awassa, Ethiopia two weeks earlier) and that I would be comatose within five hours. Without knowing what to do or who to call, I started having a panic attack. When the doctor finally saw me, I was shivering, wheezing, unable to talk, and sobbing from the pain. After a quick shot of painkillers, I was taken to Nairobi hospital and admitted for two days.

The outcome? Malaria: no. I had acute sinusitis and an upper respiratory infection. Seven fantastically pain-free days later, I am kicking the worst of it out of my system.

Anyway, I am telling this story for a few reasons. The first reason is to demonstrate the level of healthcare available in Nairobi. For a fairly non-life threatening infection, I was admitted to one of the best hospitals in Africa, where I spent two days with nurses hustling in and out of my room every ten minutes to draw blood, check my temperature, feed me medication, plump my pillows, and give me detailed instructions on how to turn on the television. I had men in hairnets deliver a wide variety of cuisine for meals, and supervisors and all kinds of official-looking people stopping by to enquire about my health. And I had an entire room to myself that looked like a mini-apartment. Like so many amenities in Nairobi, I may as well have been in a top-notch institution right back in the United States.

Let me subtly mention here that if you don’t have acceptable health insurance, you must pay 170,000 shillings (about $2,200 dollars) to enter this hospital. Most fortunately, I had health insurance (thanks Kiva). But for those who don’t, Nairobi Hospital is an impossible dream. Millions around the world suffer not only from lack of adequate hospitals, but from lack of experienced doctors, nurses, and proper treatment. I’d like to draw attention to Frank, a student in medical school in the United States who recently stayed at Kopila Valley, an orphanage in Surkhet, Nepal. Here is an excerpt about his observations of rural healthcare:

“It is midnight in Nepal and your child is sick. There is little you can do on your own, having your own medicine is a luxury and the knowledge needed to dispense it even rarer. Getting an ambulance is next to impossible at this time of night because the driver is either asleep, drunk, or just does not care enough to drive out. If you can acquire another means of transportation you have only made it over the first of many hurdles.
The hospital is a room with eight beds. The only privacy is a small screen used to shield you from the face of agony and muffle the sounds of fear coming from the bed next to you. There is only one nurse on duty and she will give you a bed and then write on a small piece of paper what supplies you need to buy… Then when you return, the nurse who is not qualified enough to prescribe aspirin will inject your child with a potent pain killer. Keep in mind that she not only has barely spoken to you, but she has no knowledge of your child’s medical history and most likely will not be able to do anything if your child has an allergic reaction.

Now that your child is no longer crying and in pain the nurse returns to her station where she will call the doctor as you wait with a scared child… Over the phone the doctor will decide whether your case is serious enough for him to drive in and if it isn’t you will be told that you will have to wait until the morning to be seen. This is an ironic system because the few cases in which he deems it serous enough for him to drive in the patient will most likely deteriorate or perish in the thirty minutes it takes him to get to the hospital from his house.”

These are nightmares that low-income to even middle-income people face in many developing countries. I have also firsthand witnessed a good friend in India who’s son nearly died because the only surgeon within a 30 mile radius was on vacation for 12 days- and then on top of it, the six year old boy was given medication designed to treat adults. And so I find myself incredibly lucky to not only have top-notch amenities available to me in the United States, but in Nairobi as well, because I have the means to afford it.

I am not telling this story to try to guilt-trip readers. I am telling this story because this week has brought me more self-awareness to the reason why I am here: why I am doing this fellowship with Kiva, and why, to me, economic development is so important. I find it important because if utilized correctly, it is an opportunity for a single person, a family, a community, a country, to change these things themselves. It’s an opportunity for low-income people to build their own self-sustainble businesses, design suitable housing, construct ample educational institutions, instill safe and clean sanitation, and establish the same hospitals that anyone can check into if they have a mere respiratory infection.

Brittany Boroian is a Class 12 Kiva Fellow, based in Nairobi, Kenya. She recently graduated from Global College, with a bachelor’s in Global Studies and Economic Development. Support Faulu Kenya by joining their Lending Team on the Kiva website!

About the author