Kenyan Violence Likely to Create Long-Term Health Problems

Published February 4, 2008

The ongoing violence in Kenya threatens that country’s recent success in controlling disease, says a Duke University physician who is establishing a women’s reproductive health program in Kenya.

In 2007, the World Health organization (WHO) and UNAIDS acknowledged that Kenya was on the right path to control tuberculosis and HIV, but the prolonged violence since the election in late December 2007 is likely to change that, says Dr. Jeff Wilkinson.

“We know that social unrest and internal displacement disrupt health care,” Wilkinson says.

Wilkinson says that colleagues in Eldoret, Kenya, report that women in labor have had difficulty reaching the hospital and there has been an increase in stillbirths and ruptured uteri.

And while these are immediate problems, there also is likely to be more long-term health problems, he says.

“With the unrest, the Kenyan people cannot get access to the preventive tools, such as bed nets to guard against malaria, or condoms to guard against sexually transmitted diseases,” he says. “Moreover, if they get sick, they cannot make it to clinics for treatments. Since tuberculosis and HIV require long-term treatment, lack of access is a huge obstacle to controlling the diseases.”

Wilkinson has been working in women’s health in Africa for several years and is leading the Duke women’s health effort in Kenya. He is in daily contact with colleagues from Indiana University, with whom Duke has been creating a women’s health program.

Wilkinson is not alone at Duke in his concern for the Kenyan people. The Obstetrics and Gynecology Department is hosting a “Blue Jean Ball” to raise money for women’s health in Kenya on February 16 (contact Alice Cooper at 919-660-2370 for more information) and Duke students are planning a vigil and fundraiser for displaced persons on February 7 at 7:00 p.m. on the steps of Duke Chapel.