3 in 10 Kenyan Patients Get Misdiagnosed, Leading to Death or Permanent Disability

By Korir Isaac / Published October 29, 2021 | 2:00 pm




KEY POINTS

Doctors should do no harm, that’s a no brainer. Coupled with the high costs of healthcare and unaffordable rates for medical suits, I don’t know what other additional incentive the hospitals, and the authorities need to stop the negligence and the cover-up.


misdiagnosed MEDICAL ERROR written on a light wooden table near a stethoscope and pills. Medical concept

In 2019, Kenya lost two of the most brilliant minds in the political space and corporate sphere due to cancer – Ken Okoth and Bob Collymore. The two incidences, although different, have a similarity; both had been initially misdiagnosed.

For more than a year, Ken OKoth presented symptoms of ulcers, and sometimes bacterial infections, which he was being treated for. He was even further put on drugs to manage stress, but during the whole process, Okoth was battling with severe abdominal pains and weight loss.

Bob Collymore, on the other hand, was misdiagnosed of having Vitamin D Deficiency in Kenya. It was not until he traveled abroad that he was correctly diagnosed with stage four Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Sadly, in both cases, their cancer diagnosis was done when they had already reached stage 4. If they had been diagnosed properly, they’d have started their treatments early, and perhaps, they’d still be alive.

These two cases are just but a few of the many similar medical malpractices that have caused the deaths of so many people across the globe. One-third of malpractice cases that result in death or permanent disability come from a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis.

In 2020, the Kenya National Union of Medical Laboratory Officers (KNUMLO) raised concern over the high levels of misdiagnosis of diseases in the country.

KNUMLO cited that three out of 10 patients in the country get the wrong diagnosis or treatment.

The union claimed that many Kenyans across the country are wrongly put on anti-tuberculosis and anti-retroviral drugs or had their ulcers misdiagnosed with H. Pylori.

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There are thousands of horror stories – of nurses, doctors, and other medical practitioners giving the wrong treatment, delaying, or failing to attend to their patients. Others harm their patients and then there are those who undertake life-changing procedures without consulting them.

Recently, the Kenyan Rapper King Kaka found himself knocking on death’s door aftera misdiagnosis, which rendered him 33 kilograms lighter.

His misdiagnosis led to a serious bodily reaction and his health deteriorated before he was eventually admitted. In a long Instagram post, the artist posted a picture of himself 2days after he was admitted. The picture was taken shortly after he’d undergone a procedure for a bone marrow sample.

The rapper noted that he was going through hell and that one day he will tell the whole story. This terrible ordeal isn’t far from what another artist, Jimmy Gait went through as well.

The gospel singer, in 2019, nearly lost his voice after a misdiagnosis at a local hospital following bouts of persistent throat pains.

Gait said in a YouTube video that if he hadn’t traveled to India to seek a second opinion. It was then that he learnt that the pain was due to high acidity, something that would’ve led to him developing stomach cancer.

In another 2019 incident, an Embu couple lost their 11-month-old Baby Ethan after he was wrongfully injected with a different drug at a Nairobi private hospital.

The couple said that the doctor who was on shift duty, injected Baby Ethan with the drug, which she later admitted was adrenalin, before the child collapsed. The doctor then desperately tried all manner of efforts to resuscitate the boy before she informed his mother of his death.

Such are the unfortunate risks associated with seeking medical assistance in some Kenyan hospital. The case has been worsened by a conspiracy of silence which compounds the risks of professional misconduct Kenyans face when seeking treatment.

There are no statistics to show just how many people have suffered in the hands of negligent doctors. We only rely on media reports and a few incidences where the victims come out while seeking justice.

In September 2019, Lucy Kinya was awarded 25.6 million shillings in compensation after she was left paralyzed while giving childbirth.

During the same year, over 6 hospitals were instructed to pay 150 million shillings in compensation to patients over cases of medical malpractice. And for the past decade, the Kenyan Medical Board has handled more that 671 such cases with 72 of them being in 2018.

Despite these worrying stats of people getting misdiagnosed and other related medical errors, no more than 3 doctors have been de-registered in the last two decades.

This means that all over the country, there are many unsuspecting patients suffering in silence, burdened with medical bills after being misdiagnosed. And since most cannot afford proper treatment abroad, they eventually face a premature death.

Of course, it goes without saying that most Kenyan doctors are incompetent, or are purely deliberate in their actions. While we know only too well the limitations in the right medical equipment for some procedures, and the capacity of some hospitals, it would be criminal to keep protecting such doctors.

Private hospitals, for instance, which do not rely on state funding may continue killing people, and the cases will go unnoticed. Those that makes it to the light of day are often solved with bribes – we both know that.

It beats logic that with such deaths, the country’s Medical Board doesn’t readily publish the list of doctors, or other medical persons involved or have a record of such negligence.

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Doctors should do no harm, that’s a no brainer. Coupled with the high costs of healthcare and unaffordable rates for medical suits, I don’t know what other additional incentive the hospitals, and the authorities need to stop the negligence and the cover-up.

Some hospitals have patient safety programs (credit to those who do), and those that do not, it is a fundamental toward avoid medical errors such as misdiagnosis and improving communication standards.

There is also an urgent need for the Medical Board, the Ministry of Health, and county Governments to increase data collection for public safety and for accountability. After all, our right to safety in all hospitals is embedded in our constitutional and health act.

And while we are at it, maybe we should advocate for Kenya to have independent health personnel that are readily available to advice patients on their treatment.

Also, don’t forget to speak out against medical malpractice. It could save a life!




About Korir Isaac

A creative, tenacious, and passionate journalist with impeccable ethics and a nose for anticipated and spontaneous news. He may not say it, but he sure can make one hell of a story.

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