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Striving for better health in congested Nairobi

Six years ago marked the first time in human history that the majority of the world's people lived in cities. Nairobi has not been left behind, with the growing population introducing challenges in day to day health.

More growth translates into more pollution, congestion and scramble for amenities like fresh water. Infectious and waterborne diseases are transmitted more easily in congested environments. The air is polluted with gasoline and diesel exhausts, and the general grime stirred by millions of people. This predisposes to heart attacks, strokes, asthma and a host of other ill-health problems. The unavoidable noise pollution increases the risks of high blood pressure and heart attacks as evidenced by studies. Constant city lighting (even with the inevitable Nairobi blackouts!), interferes with sleeping patterns. The body clock mechanism is disturbed, leading to sleep disturbances and increased stress levels. And the general lifestyle is more sedentary, increasing health risks even more.

So how can Nairobians help themselves? Exercises are a panacea of many ills. Nairobi is awash with accessible green parks for walking, cycling or simply enjoying fresher air. But a look at most public parks reveals the need for better maintenance and public safety, a must do for the new Nairobi leadership. Walkways and cycling paths are mostly unavailable, and abused by rude motorists. It’s better to walk on the innermost portion of sidewalks; studies have shown that there is less exposure to unhealthy airborne particulates than walking closer to the road.

Health and fitness clubs in Nairobi are mostly private. Ordinary hard working Nairobians can hardly afford health club memberships which provide indoor health activities. The city can invest in publicly accessible facilities, charging only nominal fees for maintenance as happens in cities elsewhere. The number of families out on weekends, in freely accessible eateries that offer a semblance of such amenities, gives credence to the potential of such an investment. If all else fails, some physical exercises in respective neighbourhoods early in the mornings when air is fresh is an alternative.

And if sleeping is a problem, sleeping with ear muffs comes in handy in noisy neighbourhoods. NEMA can always help if necessary. Heavy curtains help block excessive street lighting that interferes with sleep patterns, assuming a constant flow of power through the KPLC lines.

Finally, the disparity of quality of health services in Nairobi needs addressing. Majority of the public can only afford the public health facilities, where resources and quality are wanting. The city residents deserve more equity of health care, easily achieved with more health care investments. Meantime plush private facilities could chose to lend a social responsibility card, and find ways of accommodating more Nairobians.

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