Kijabe Road: A nightmare ride for patients to the mission hospital
Tucked on the rolling hills of the Great Rift Valley along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway lies Kijabe Mission Hospital. The hospital, established by missionaries in 1915, is synonymous with bone surgery. As you snake down the breathtaking scenery of lush vegetation and tall trees, the ride is peaceful if your eyes are only focused on the beautiful scenery and the quality of medical care that awaits you at the AIC church-run hospital.
The hospital is home to advanced medical care with volunteer expatriate doctors dotting the compound. Among the critical services the hospital offers is orthopedic surgery (bone fixing), paediatric surgery (for children) among other services which attracts patients from as far as Mogadishu in Somalia.
Being a mission hospital, the cost of medicare is cheap and hence attracting thousands of patients from all over the country. But despite this hospital being a referral unit that has greatly helped decongest Kenyantta National Hospital, the road to this facility is a nightmare to patients. The smooth ride from Nairobi comes to an abrupt end when you turn off at the Kijabe junction. There you meet ‘junky’ cars in the name of taxis waiting to ferry passengers from the junction to the hospital. The newest of the dozen or so cars is a KAD. I later came to learn why matatus have refused to take passengers downhill to the hospital.
The ride through the 5km road is a nightmare even for the healthy but for people with spinal complications and mothers who have delivered their babies through caesarean section it is death threat. On my way to the hospital, I tried to count the number of potholes along the short stretch that should take one at most 10 minutes but I stopped at 200.
Some of the potholes are like craters filled with stones as a temporary solution. Even the mighty four-wheelers have to slow to a snail’s pace to beat the jumpy road. It is here at one of the corners – the road has many – that we meet Dr Ruth Mayforth, a paediatric surgeon dodging mighty holes on the four-metre wide road.
She slows down when she sees me taking pictures and without much prompting she narrates the ordeals of the road and effects to her patients. “I feel for the patients who have had emergency abdominal operations,” she says. On a later phone interview with her, she raises fear about spinal injury patients who flood the hospital. “Patients with spinal injury needs to be very still but it is impossible with a road like this,” says Dr Mayforth.
She is not the only doctor with such concerns. A gynaecologist in the hospital told the Star that many women rushing to the maternity ward have ended up suffering under the menacing potholes. But the worse is when a mother has given birth through caesarean section. The chances of rupturing the wound increase through the bumpy ride.
One such patient is Lucy who gave birth through a C-section. She described her journey from Kijabe hospital to the main road as terrifying. “By the time I reached the main road I felt faint, and the wound started paining. I could not do anything for a week and the bleeding which had stopped before I was discharged started again.”
Lucy is among the lucky ones. Others have developed complications that have necessitated further surgery. The story is no different in the orthopedic wards. A surgeon in the department told us some patients who have had their broken limbs fixed end up back at the hospital after the rough ride which weakens the bolts and screws used to fix the limbs.
Another surgeon, Dr Joseph Theuri, who has worked in the bone department for 10 years, says most patients suffer pain and bone tiring after a ride on that 5km stretch of road. “It is a painful process for someone with an injury. Even the cost of transport increases because a journey that used to take 15 minutes now takes 30 minutes,” says Dr Theuri.
Residents are now blaming their MP for laxity in lobbying government to repair a road that has never seen any major repairs since 1984. But the Lari MP David Njuguna told the Star that the hospital is to blame for the state of the road which falls under the jurisdiction of the government. “Have you called the hospital CEO? Call her and she will explain why the road is not repaired,” said the MP after the Star called him for comment. A taxi operator, James Maina, we found with a broken down car lamented: “Our area MP has decided to neglect us.” Maina told us that in a month he uses up to Sh10,000 for repairs.