Planning on moving to Kenya? Well first of all, congratulations – Kenya is one of Africa’s most enduring jewels, thanks in part to its iconic wildlife, endlessly friendly people, and unique status as the Cradle of Humanity. Kenya is home to an ever-increasing number of US expats too, many of whom find themselves drawn to the country’s fascinating qualities.

Before you make the move though, you should have an understanding of one the most important aspects of moving to any country – the healthcare system. Kenya, like many countries in Africa, has its own healthcare challenges. That said, learning how to navigate the potential pitfalls and getting health insurance sorted early can leave you in a more confident position when you arrive.

Kenyan healthcare: key statistics

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    Average life expectancy
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    % GDP spent on healthcare
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    % of Kenyans with healthcare coverage

An overview of Kenya’s health system

Healthcare in Kenya has its challenges. But this doesn’t change the fact that Kenya is seeing year-on-year improvements across both its private and public healthcare sectors (even if those improvements are incremental).

To help you get a clearer picture of the state of Kenya’s healthcare situation, we’re going to break down the main differences between public and private healthcare in Kenya:

Two zebras with Nairobi in the background

Two zebras with Nairobi in the background

Public healthcare

Kenya’s public healthcare system in 2021 remains quite basic. It’s partly funded by the government, but this is limited to primary healthcare centers and dispensaries. Anything more complicated than that, and private healthcare becomes the better option for expats.

For standard medication, you’ll find it relatively simple to get what you need from most pharmacies, and an estimated 12,000 of them are located across the country. A word of warning though, there is a chance some pharmacies might stock fake or low-quality medicine. This makes importing any essential medicines something many expats do, but the process is not without its complications.

As well as this, keep in mind that many of the people running the pharmacies have limited medical knowledge, with staff often not recognizing brand names of medicines and/or prescriptions. Because of this, it’s important that you memorize the generic names for any medications you might need.

The Kenyan government did introduce the NHIF (National Hospital Insurance Fund) in the 1960s, and it currently covers roughly 16-20% of Kenyans working in the formal and informal sectors. For the former, coverage is mandatory and workers pay a statutory rate each month. For informal sector workers, coverage is optional, and those that choose to pay do so via a flat rate contribution directly to the NHIF.

Private healthcare

Kenya’s private healthcare system has seen improvements in recent years, with better-funded hospitals providing a higher level of healthcare. Most of these hospitals are located in the main cities (like Nairobi and Mombasa), with healthcare in rural areas being limited to the occasional clinic (often called a dispensary in Kenya).

The AGA Khan University Hospital in Nairobi is considered the first port of call for expats living in Kenya. Its comparatively high standard of care and accommodation of insured people make it a popular choice. Additionally, there are a handful of clinics in the coastal areas of Diani and Malindi, with varying levels of quality.

Whilst the private options are more popular for Kenya’s expat population, the costs are still very high when paying out of pocket, making health insurance a must. If you’re curious about the cost of health insurance in Kenya, you can click here for a free quote from Cigna.

The future of Kenya’s healthcare system

Funding for both public and private healthcare in Kenya has increased in recent years, with total expenditure standing at 37% and 39% respectively. However, the government is still underfunding healthcare, as noted in a recent investigation into the country's healthcare by JoGH (Journal of Global Health):

“Kenya’s expenditure on megaprojects such as infrastructure development, dams, military, and allowances for high-ranking government officials needs to be revised to ensure health is given more attention. For the last decade, the government’s budgetary allocation to health has stood at an average of 9% – despite its signing of the Abuja declaration, which requires signatories to allocate 15% of their budget for health.”

Does Kenya have a good healthcare system?

Kenya’s healthcare system is lacking in some key aspects – namely in ease of access, quality, and affordability. As well as this, there is an overall lack of qualified medical professionals throughout the Kenyan healthcare system. Trained doctors, technicians, nurses, etc. are all underrepresented across the country, and it has left Kenya in a position where the need for specialized care outweighs the capacity to manage it.

Private healthcare options will be best for the majority of US expats in Kenya, especially when coupled with a comprehensive health insurance plan.

Does Kenya have universal healthcare?

Yes, but it’s limited. The NHIF scheme does cover some procedures, notably maternity care. The aforementioned public health centres treat minor ailments such as colds and flu, uncomplicated skin conditions, and simple malaria (anything more than this requires more expert care).

Kenya’s healthcare system ranking

According to The Lancet’s Healthcare Access and Quality report (2016), Kenya has a HAQ score of 39. With a maximum score of 100, this points to the reality of Kenya’s quality of healthcare – that it trails far behind the majority of developed countries. It’s an improvement over the 32 Kenya scored in 1990, but it’s clear that Kenya has some way to go towards dramatically improving the healthcare situation if it wants to score higher.

Healthcare in Kenya for expats

Health insurance for expats moving to Kenya is all but essential. Private healthcare in Kenya without insurance is prohibitively expensive, even for what would be considered routine surgery. And the public healthcare system, as noted earlier, is limited to basic care for simple ailments and some routine surgeries.

Healthcare in Kenya for US citizens

US citizens looking to move to Kenya face the same difficulties any expat would when moving to Kenya. As above, we recommend getting health insurance before you make the move.

The NHIF, though primarily designed for Kenyans over the age of 18, can be used by expats as well. Regardless of whether you use it or not, you are still required to pay a small sum to the NHIF from your monthly salary – it won’t be more than KSh 1,700 (approx $15) per month. The sheer affordability of the NHIF makes it an attractive option, but remember this will not cover anything advanced, such as complicated surgery or emergency evacuation out of the country.

To help US expats moving to Kenya, we’ve partnered with Cigna Global. They provide comprehensive global healthcare insurance designed to put expats’ minds at ease. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna has plans to suit your healthcare needs, whatever they may be. Start building your Cigna plan today.

Healthcare in Kenya for expats

Health insurance for expats moving to Kenya is all but essential. Private healthcare in Kenya without insurance is prohibitively expensive, even for what would be considered routine surgery. And the public healthcare system, as noted earlier, is limited to basic care for simple ailments and some routine surgeries.

Healthcare in Kenya for US citizens

US citizens looking to move to Kenya face the same difficulties any expat would when moving to Kenya. As above, we recommend getting health insurance before you make the move.

The NHIF, though primarily designed for Kenyans over the age of 18, can be used by expats as well. Regardless of whether you use it or not, you are still required to pay a small sum to the NHIF from your monthly salary – it won’t be more than KSh 1,700 (approx $15) per month. The sheer affordability of the NHIF makes it an attractive option, but remember this will not cover anything advanced, such as complicated surgery or emergency evacuation out of the country.

To help US expats moving to Kenya, we’ve partnered with Cigna Global. They provide comprehensive global healthcare insurance designed to put expats’ minds at ease. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna has plans to suit your healthcare needs, whatever they may be. Start building your Cigna plan today.

Health insurance coverage in Kenya

Under the NHIF scheme, the number of Kenyan residents with health insurance ranges between 16-20%, but this varies significantly by region. Around 41% of Kenyans living in Nairobi have health coverage under the NHIF, but this falls to roughly 3% in the more rural areas of the country, for example. The private sector is considerably worse in terms of coverage, with only 1% of Kenyans covered by the 32 private insurers currently operating in the country.

The Kenyan government has committed to offering all of the country universal healthcare (UHC) by 2022. However, it remains to be seen if this is possible, especially in light of the difficulties Kenya has experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefits of private medical care

  • You get the best possible care in Kenya, at the quickest speed possible
  • When combined with insurance, it is much cheaper than paying out of pocket
  • The doctors treating you are more likely to have less patients, freeing up their time and speeding up the process
  • You’ll enjoy more privacy and peace of mind

How much does health insurance cost in Kenya?

When moving to a new country, one of the biggest concerns is the cost of healthcare, whether that be paying out of pocket or paying for health insurance. The costs can also vary significantly depending on whether you’re applying for health insurance as an individual, or for your family.

As is usually the case, paying for private healthcare without insurance can incur significant costs. Because of this, we will always recommend considering health insurance from a trusted provider. Take a look below for information on health insurance costs for both individuals and families.

For an individual

Health insurance for an individual moving to Kenya is affordable. In general, it’s a better idea to opt for more comprehensive healthcare plans, which will usually cover things such as emergency and elective surgeries, plus evacuation from Kenya if required. These types of healthcare plans are obviously more expensive (between $1,000 and $1,700 per year), but the coverage provided is definitely worth it.

Just a quick note on evacuations – this is often the preferred option for expats living in Kenya who would prefer to receive medical treatment in their country of origin, or simply elsewhere. South Africa, for example, is a popular destination for expats living in Kenya (and indeed throughout the rest of the continent).

For a family

We recommend that families moving to Kenya opt for a healthcare plan. This is because in the unlikely event you and your family fall ill, the substantial costs incurred by paying out of pocket for private healthcare can be financially devastating. On average, family healthcare insurance will cost about $320 per month.

Summary

It’s encouraging to see the Government of Kenya continue to show commitment to improving the country’s national healthcare system. Despite this, there is no denying that Kenya continues to struggle with managing healthcare for both its 50 million residents and the expats who call it home. Many are often left without access to specialized care and without access to doctors, due largely to the fact there just aren’t enough individuals being trained to a high-enough standard.

If you want access to Kenya’s private healthcare options, which are of a much higher quality overall, we will always recommend getting health insurance. This will give you access to the country’s best hospitals and help give you peace of mind in your move to Kenya. Start building your customized healthcare plan today.