Getting Medical Care in Nairobi

Recently I had to get my Yellow Fever vaccination renewed after ten glorious years of free and easy travel across the world. Luckily, this was an easy and quick fix in Nairobi, a city gifted with several excellent hospitals meeting Western standards in terms of service and hygiene. There are, however, some bearucratic issues and therefore, I thought I’d write a post about where to go the hospital, to help others moving here or who are settled here but are yet to enjoy the wonders of Privatised healthcare…

As always, if you know a great doctor or hospital centre then please add it to the comments below.

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Hospitals

I had the delight of going to a hospital once after a 40 minute flight from Eldoret to Nairobi and somehow contracting a violent bout of food poisoning. It happens to the best of us and to make matters worse the attendants were convinced I was pregnant and somehow managed to make a call to my boyfriend, who upon meeting me at the hospital greeted me with a mixture of worry and confusion. ‘I am not pregnant’, I muffled between grunts into an airsickness bag now resting in his hands. He was not convinced. I then vommitted on his shoes. He quickly agreed.

We were now inside A+E at Aga Khan Hospital, the creme de la creme of Nairobi’s elite medical care, on a Friday night and I really wanted to see a doctor. Both us being British, and used to the NHS we quickly ambled up to the Front Desk and asked to see a Medical professional. This was met with a surly receptionist who demanded payment. This is something we were not used to. In Kenya, there is no way you are seeing any medical healthcare until you make payment and believe me, they don’t care how ill you are. No payment, No doctor. If you are in Kenya and your employer is not going to cover your medical insurance, or gives you the limited amount of in/out patient care, then seriously consider getting your own coverage as accessing hospitals without insurance is very, very expensive. If you don’t have insurance then large major hospitals will accept cash, credit card or mPesa. Don’t be surprised to see a Teller behind a menacing looking bared window waiting to accept your payment or an ATM machine furiously blinking in the lobby area. Healthcare is a big business and Kenyan hospitals aren’t ashamed to admit it.

Luckily we did have insurance, so I pressed my Insurance Card against the bleeper on the receptionists desk and all my details came up on screen. After this we then sat on a  metal chair, surrounded by other sad looking patients until we were called through to the inpatient ward. At this point, a very friendly male nurse greeted us and asked for all my symptoms, to which he responded with a cheery ‘Maybe you are pregnant?’. I shouted ‘No!’ and then vommitted on his shoes too. Apart from trying to convince me I was with child, he was excellent, thorough and administered a drip to stabilise my fluids and let me barf all over his clean little bed ward. We were there for about 4 hours. They were keen to keep us in but by about midnight we decided to go home and they discharged us. I then went in 2 days later for a check up and was cleared with full paper work.

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Apologies for the graphic and gross story but I wanted to convey the message that going to hospitals in Nairobi will result in an almost similar situation to what you may find in your home country. Hospitals in the capital are similar to those in the West or another country with a sophisticated healthcare system. But you MUST pay upon arrival or you will not get any access to healthcare. My advice to expats is have your medical card somewhere very accessible. Doctors have no issue with rifling through your possessions to find your Medical Insurance details if you are in a coma or car accident and if they can’t find this, they will swipe a credit card for of finding you dead on their operating table. I would recommend also keep an emergency contact in your purse so that they can find this easily if you are in another life threatening situation.

Another top tip is if you are going to the hospital, don’t go alone. There is paper work and as mentioned payment must be made, so if you are busy being sick all over the waiting room floor whilst a nurse taps furiously at her clipboard to sign the dotted line, it will be much easier with a friendly face there. Even if you are new, ask a colleague or your new room mate. You never know when you might get to return the favour!

Nairobi also has government hospitals but for emergency care and ongoing doctors strikes, I would not recommend these services.

Excellent hospitals:

Aga Khan Hospital – Parklands. All types of wards, emergency units and maternity.

Nairobi Hospital – Upper Hill/Ngong Road.

M.P. Shah Hospital – Westlands/Parklands

Karen Hospital – Karen

For emergencies call 999. Ambulances must be paid for. Payment will be made once reaching the hospital. In some cases you may want to drive yourself depending on traffic levels.

Keep a note of the number of your insurer’s 24/7 number so you know what medical facilities you can access without being stung with a massive insurance bill at the end of the month.

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Outpatient Clinics

Sometimes you don’t need a hospital. You just need an outpatient centre or GP service. The quality is similar to the above, and its the same pay before you receive service. I had my yellow fever certificate done at Nairobi Hospital Outpatient which was fine. Note if you visit a centre and you are not a previous patient they will ask you to fill out a painful amount of paperwork, which you then watch a receptionist type painfully slowly into a laptop. At one point, I went round the desk and typed it in for her as I couldn’t bear her misspelling my last name for the 14th time…

Once you pay, you’ll then go into the waiting room and drop off your receipt into an outpatient box. I waited about 5 minutes for my card to be picked. A doctor then came and called my name, took my vitals, asked if I was pregnant (give it a rest Kenya) and then jabbed me with a needle. The whole process took 15 minutes.

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If you are not sure what is wrong, and you are feeling generally unwell, then you can let reception know and then a doctor will assess you after. If you want to see a doctor of a specific gender that is also well understood here and it’s best to let reception know before you are called. They’ll then say what tests they recommend. You’ll have to pay for these before you can receive them. Once the results are out, the doctors are very quick to act and will assess and suggest the way forward.

Top Tip: When you are in the waiting room, they will call your name so make sure you keep your ears primed as we had a friend who was left waiting almost 2 hours because the Dr. was so softly spoken she missed them all together.

Good outpatient facilities:

Aga Khan Outpatient – various locations across Kenya and Nairobi.

Nairobi Hospital – Gigiri (UN) and other various locations across Kenya and Nairobi.

AAR Clinics – various locations across Kenya and Nairobi

I have been told by some Kenyan friends that they can be very picky at the Airport upon entry into Kenya, concerning where Yellow Fever vaccinations cards can come from. Some have reported that they can only be accepted from City Hall Medical Centre and also JKIA Airport. Ask your Medical Insurance company before you intend to travel in case they demand to re-prick you at the airport!

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Malaria

Think you have malaria? Go to hospital NOW. Apart from the ones above, there is an excellent Hospital of Tropical Medicine on Ngong Road that will treat you for any diseases including Bilharzia and Dengue Fever. If you think you have contracted something, please don’t sit at home. These can kill you very quickly.

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Sexual Health Clinics

Sexual health is important, especially in Kenya where the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids is high. Stop snickering and get yourself tested for god sake. The clinics here are excellent and the nurses at the centres are professional and give very good advice.

Marie Stopes – many clinics around the city and Kenya

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Amref

If your work or personal life calls for lots of time out in the Kenyan bush, rock climbing or remote areas, consider getting Amref cover added to your insurance. They employ pilots to medical evacuate (medivac) patients back to Nairobi or other large cities across East Africa. For Nairobi, they’ll fly you into Wilson Airport and on to a large private hospital. Without this you can expect a very expensive medical bill.

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Pharmacies

Sometimes  you don’t want to go to a hospital or even a doctor. You just want some paracetamol and a long sleep. There are many pharmacies across the capital but not all sell top quality drugs and Nairobi has fallen victim to many counterfeit drugs over the last few years. To avoid these, go to pharmacies in Outpatient centres or in Malls where the quality and price are much higher. Good Life pharmacies tend to be in high end malls and have excellent staff and a wide range of products. Avoid pharmacies that are ’24 hour’ or attached to petrol stations. You’ll need a prescription for any heavy duty items from a doctor.

For online deliveries you can also try MyDawa.com (literally meaning My Medicine, not the drink sadly) which delivers medication to your door or place of work!

Cultural Differences

Hospitals here are very keen to give out antibiotics to cure your ailments, even for the smallest things. Issues like a small cold or cough are often treated with a heavy dose of medication that would probably be treated in the west with a cup of tea and a lie down. It’s up to if you think they are needed or not. I found this upselling of medication (especially if you have insurance and they may be trying to rinse it for all its worth) a tad worrying and tend to say no to any pills I’m not sure of.

The pregnancy issue is real. Every time I go to the hospital here I am often asked if I am pregnant (which is fine) and if I want a pregnancy test (not fine). Upon saying, ‘No’ and adding, ‘by the way, I’m not trying’ I am met with a judgemental stare from the Dr. and a frown of ‘You don’t want children?!’. You have to just let it go and not get annoyed. Family is very important here and for local people it can seem very odd that if you are mid-twenties and in a stable relationship that you don’t have children nor have any desire to have them.

Faith in God. Doctor’s that you meet in the hospitals listed above are medically trained professionals and know how to administer drugs and life saving care to you. They will never try to ‘heal you’. However, if you are given serious medical news or are seeing a friend or relative in hospital who is perhaps diagnosed with a life threatening illness, do not be surprised if they try to calm you by suggesting for you to ‘Put your faith in God’. This can seem deluded or insensitive coming from the West, but you have to just accept there are cultural differences and that Kenyans are largely deeply religious. Just move past it. If you really have an issue with it, you can gently let the staff know you are not religious and they will not push the agenda further.


Please, if you know any excellent services, comment below and let others know where to go or to avoid. As I don’t have children, any advice on paediatricians would be very helpful.

For emergencies, call 999.

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