NAIROBI, KENYA – At the orthopedic ward of Kenyatta National Hospital, Sheila Akinyi, 26, lies in a narrow bed next to another patient with a heavily bandaged leg.
Most patients in this ward are recovering from serious bone fractures and other injuries. Still, patients sleep in twos in this congested ward at Kenya’s largest public hospital, where almost all road accident survivors in the city are taken. From Akinyi and her bedmate’s banter, it’s clear they’ve been together for some time.
“I was brought here by the police three weeks ago,” Akinyi says. “They told me I was lucky to be alive, as most of the people involved in the accident died on the spot.”
Akinyi says she was on her way home after a long day’s work at the end of June. She joined a group of about seven pedestrians waiting to cross the road in Mbotela estate, a suburb in Nairobi, Kenya's capital.
Just as they were about to cross, three motorbike riders who were trying to avoid a police roadblock tore into the group at lightening speed, she says. Most of the pedestrians were thrown into a ditch, suffering fatal injuries.
Akinyi, a mother of two, says she was lucky to escape with only a broken thighbone. Still, she says her life has suddenly come to a stop because it’ll take months of physiotherapy until she can walk again.
Thousands of Kenyans die in road accidents every year. Police attribute the high number of accidents to careless driving and lenient laws. Courts do hand out jail time and fines, but citizens say they are not harsh enough to serve justice and to encourage safe driving. A new bill that aims to change that is sailing through Parliament. But some owners and drivers of public transportation vehicles reject the bill, calling the penalties too harsh and predicting it will lead to corruption.
More than 3,000 people died in road crashes in 2011 across the country, according to Kenya Police’s Traffic Department. The department has largely attributed the traffic accidents to careless driving and lenient laws that allow motorists to return to the roads even after committing serious traffic offenses.
The male ward of Kenyatta National Hospital is as congested as the neighboring female ward. Inside, Solomon Kimaru limps around with a heavily plastered leg. A sling hangs from his neck to support his hand. A cart puller, Kimaru says he was going about his normal business of transporting goods from one part of the city to the other when a motorist hit his cart from behind.
“My leg and hand were severely fractured,” he says. “But the driver was kind enough to stop and bring me to the hospital. Some drivers flee, leaving you to bleed to death.”
Richard Lesiyampe, director of Kenyatta National Hospital, says the hospital spends 10 million shillings ($120,000) per week to treat road accident victims. The accident victims occupy most of the 30 beds in the hospital’s critical care unit at the expense of open-heart surgery and kidney transplant patients.