August 18, 2013


Untrained ‘medicine men’ conducting brain surgery in rural Kenya. In areas where there isn’t access to doctors, ‘medicine men’ pick up slack.

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Untrained ‘medicine men’ conducting brain surgery in rural Kenya

Untrained ‘medicine men’ conducting brain surgery in rural Kenya


Deep in the hilly land of Elgeyo Marakwet, residents are often injured trying to traverse the difficult terrain. In a land where mangoes grow to the size of a watermelon, the effects of an unripe mango, which is both heavy and hard, falling on your head can be devastating. For one Edwin Murkomen, such was the case one fateful evening. As he was heading home a mango bashed into his fore head and ever since he has had blurred vision and dizziness.


Due to the remoteness of the area and the obvious level of poverty, accessibility of modern health facilities is not only a challenge but, for most, its a dream. The people do, however, have access to traditional medicine men who are not only their physicians but also the local surgeons.

Edwin Murkomen decided that he would go under the scalpel so that the good doctors can alleviate his symptoms. Nixon Kemboi, or “Daktari Kichwa” as he is fondly referred to by the members of Kaben location of Marakwet East constituency, started operating in his early twenties, and now at the age of thirty four, he has performed over a hundred operations.

But this is only a fraction of what his father and predecessor Mzee Wilson Belionei performed. “This gift was passed on [from] my grandfather, then my father and then to me and now I am passing it on to my son,” he says as they prepare to operate on Edwin.


In attendance for the operation were doctors from the Moi teaching and referral hospital to observe. With them is Dr. Florentius Koech, the only neurosurgeon in Western Kenya who serves the population of approximately 18 million people with over eight hundred cases a year, quite a daunting task for anyone.

The profession takes over sixteen years of training and a minimum cost of ten million shillings for studies both in the country and overseas which has caused a deficiency of neurosurgeons in the country.


“The traditional surgeons, to a small degree, do fill in the gap for qualified health professionals but we still need more neurosurgeons,” Dr Koech points out. “In fact in some cultures, that is in Kisii and in Marakwet, the traditional surgeons are so greatly relied on that most people seek counsel from them first before going to hospitals.”

As a way of getting medical care to the people, the hospitals in the region are providing anaesthetics as well as syringes, gloves and scalpels. The surgeons say that none of their patients have died and a majority of the population wear scars from these procedures that saved their lives. “At the end of the day it’s all about helping our people and if they’re able to help our people. And if they are able to help our people, then well and good,” Dr. Koech declares calmly.

Itinerant traditional surgeons work throughout sub-Saharan Africa and perform many procedures like uvulectomy, circumcision and tooth extractions. Statistically, up to ten patients can use the same cutting and injection in a single clinical session.

It is an encouraging in the public health sector that hospitals have taken the initiative to provide equipment where medical personnel is deficient in Kenya to the advantage of the community at large. This is a significant step in the combat of spread of HIV/AIDS.

Mzee Belionei for now cautiously continues with his practice to meet the needs of the community. “This gift has to be passed on to the next generation who we hope will receive more training and save more lives”.


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