Kenya Medical


I caused an accident last week.

A saloon car driving up Embu’s Main Street (Nairobi – Meru Highway) decided to turn right into a side street. Coming down the hill, a motorcycle taxi (“boda-boda“) driver spotted me walking on the opposite side of the road and was distracted. Even though I’m not the only muzungu in the village (there is a blond, young, Danish man working with us), I still can attract rapt attention. The car driver cut the corner, probably expecting the motorcyclist to slow down or take evasive action, as they usually do.

It’s live and let live here, rather than obsessively obeying the Highway Code.

It was too late for the motorcyclist to react, so he laid the bike down and slid into the front of the car. The pillion passenger and the driver of the boda-boda were not injured. The bike sustained some damage from scraping down the tarmac. There was also some minor damage to the radiator grille, front bumper and number plate of the car.

I didn’t need to intervene medically, though I do have access to a magnificent emergency backpack at the office. It is huge, bright red with yellow reflectors and two extra panniers on each side. It weighs about 25kg so I don’t relish having to yomp a long distance to attend an incident. There is so much equipment inside that I could probably perform major surgery.

As well as doing the “day job” supporting Kenyan health workers in providing high-quality care to people in rural areas suffering from chronic diseases (such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, epilepsy, and hypertension), we have to be on the alert for other medical calamities which could occur in our locality. My predecessor picked two of the most likely outbreaks (cholera and methanol poisoning) to prepare for and stocked up on specific equipment and appropriate medication. But even if we are called upon to help in these situations, I don’t think I will be lugging the massive red rucksack.

Post Script: Methanol poisoning is caused by drinking illicitly distilled liquor. Ethanol – ethyl alcohol – in beer, wines, and spirits, is metabolised in the liver to acetaldehyde (which wakes up you a few hours after overindulging, making you feel unwell) and finally acetate. But methanol – methyl alcohol – is metabolised to formaldehyde and formic acid, which can be fatal. It might seem odd to non-medics, but the treatment for methanol poisoning is to give the patient ethanol.

So perhaps I ought to have a wee dram in a hip flask attached to the emergency backpack?


This man is at risk of methanol poisoning