The hospital that represents Kenya-Russia relations

Monday October 14 2019

The New Mother Baby Unit at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital, on October 8, 2019. Russia funded the construction of the hospital in the mid-1960s. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Arguably the biggest referral and teaching facility in western Kenya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital embodies benefits that can ensure from friendship and relations between two nations.

Formerly known as the New Nyanza Provincial General Hospital, the 50-year-old facility got the nickname ‘Russia’ from the country that funded its construction in the mid-1960s.

It was named after the first post-independence vice-president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who led an eight-member delegation to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to negotiate funding for the facility.

The team included then-Foreign Affairs minister Joseph Murumbi and Agriculture minister Munyua Waiyaki.

They came out of the meeting all smiles, having secured funding for the 240-bed capacity hospital.

The fully-furnished hospital opened its doors to the public in a colourful ceremony presided over by founding president Jomo Kenyatta and Health minister Joseph Daniel Otiende on October 25, 1969.


The hospital was a symbol of the good relationship between the USSR and Kenya.


The colourful ceremony however turned bloody after the shooting at a restive crowd that left 11 people dead. Tension had been building up following the assassination of trade unionist and politician Tom Mboya.

The crowd, which had all along demanded to know reasons for his murder, became hostile and started throwing stones at the president’s motorcade, prompting his security personnel to swing into action.

One of those shot dead was the only son of Abdul Dahya, the main distributor of Nation Media Group’s newspapers in Kisumu at the time. An administrative police officer was among those killed.

A meeting was held in Kericho that led to a curfew in Kisumu. The following day security officers surrounded Odinga’s home. He was later airlifted to Hola and detained for two years.


Meanwhile, the hospital continued to operate under the management of Russian and a few local doctors led by Dr Randiki Mango.

“Government officials destroyed Russian sculptures at the hospital in the 1970s without giving any explanation,” says Mr Odungi Randa, who served as a personal assistant to Odinga. Jaramogi died in January 1994.

Today, the hospital serves over five million people in the region and the neighbouring countries. It is a referral hospital for more than 10 counties in western Kenya.

The hospital has expanded and now serves as a training centre for students from Maseno University, Uzima University and the Kenya Medical Training College.

It also boasts a maternity complex, a renal unit, a children’s hospital, and a critical care unit, among other departments.

Earlier in the year, Kisumu Governor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o led a ground-breaking ceremony for construction of a Sh1 billion cancer centre at the hospital.


The first phase of the project, expected to cost Sh350 million, will end in two years’ time. The entire project should be completed in five years.

The centre will offer radiotherapy, chemotherapy and palliative care for cancer patients.

The hospital’s relationship with Russia has stood the test of time despite the USSR disintegrating.

In 2015, the hospital’s then-Medical Superintendent Juliana Otieno said they were lobbying for financial support from Russia to modernise the facility.

The administration plans to expand the bed capacity, laboratory services and to build a psychiatrist unit.

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