The scramble for provision of health among Nairobi’s 3.5 million people is forcing hospitals to venture into aggressive expansion — deep into the suburbs.
Hospitals, especially the major private ones, are opening satellite clinics both in residential areas and the city centre — two places where they are sure to find people at all times.
To capture the rapidly increasing urban population who strain already existing facilities, they are also looking beyond Nairobi, setting up clinics in other neighbouring towns.
One of the largest hospitals, the Aga Khan, has medical centres in Ongata Rongai, Kiambu and Naivasha, while the Karen Hospital also has branches in Nyeri and Nakuru.
Mr Moyez Jadavji, the chief operating officer at the Aga Khan University Hospital, explains: “We have a closer-to-home strategy.
“It’s all about convenience, good service and we are also giving opportunities to our graduates.”
In total, the Aga Khan hospital has seven medical centres in Nairobi and other towns, all established within the last five years.
And as the year was beginning, it opened its newest medical centre in Kitengela, having established others in Buru Buru, Ongata Rongai, city centre and Prestige Plaza.
These outpatient centres, according to Mr Jadavji, concentrate on basic health care, like treating colds and headache, and other simple procedures.
That way, the Aga Khan University Hospital manages to decongest their main hospital in Parklands while improving accessibility and giving their trainees opportunity to learn to work within communities.
In February, the Mater Hospital also opened a new clinic in Development House on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue.
The director of marketing at the hospital, Lawrence Muiga, concurs: “The principal reason is to get closer to the customers.”
He adds that the rising population and the urban lifestyle, which is getting busier by the day, have left hospitals with few options but to go to the people.
“People have become very busy, so they will not have to travel from one end of the city to another as they seek treatment.”
Because of that, just like the supermarkets and commercial banks, residential neighbourhoods and strategic points within the city centre are proving to be the next frontiers for expansion.
Another private whospital, Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital, has not been left out in the scramble for branches.
It has clinics in Donholm, Nairobi West, Lavington, Pangani, Komarock and Embakasi.
The Mater Hospital is also said to be eyeing the populous Eastlands area, where it intends to put up a clinic targeting estates like Buru Buru and Umoja.
The trend, which started less than five years ago, has also seen the Karen Hospital establish three satellite clinics in just over three years.
One is in the city centre, opened last year. Earlier, in 2008, it had opened one satellite clinic in Nyeri Town.
The hospital also expanded into Nakuru Town early this year.
Mercy Nyakeo, a communications officer at the Karen Hospital, says that the clinics try to offer all the services available at their main hospital, except in-patient, which they refer elsewhere.
With outpatient centres within central business districts, the hospitals are also eyeing thousands of workers who are under some medical cover through their employers.
Estimates indicate that 400,000 individuals are covered under private medical insurance alone. By locating clinics strategically, the hospitals are keen on getting a piece of the income from this group.
This market segment has recently been visiting hospitals and spending their insurance credits more frequently than ever before.
In fact, to discourage these hospital visits, some employers have introduced a system known as co-payment.
The system requires a patient on company medical cover to pay part of the medical fees before getting treatment in select hospitals, usually those charging very high consultation fees.
However, it is not only Nairobi that is experiencing increasing presence of hospitals. The expansion is also targeting other towns like Kiambu and Naivasha, where the Aga Khan Hospital has medical centres.