Tea Time: Health Care for a Work Force
Photo credits: Kelly Rossiter
In my last post about my trip to Kenya to visit the Lipton Tea plantation, I talked about the benefits to the workers of the education of their children, and how the treatment of workers is one of the cornerstones of certification from the Rainforest Alliance. The other huge benefit that the workers receive from Lipton is their health care. As a Canadian, I have universal health care and yes, sometimes there are problems with the system, but I know that if I am sick, I will be taken care of without any cost to me or my family. What that means in real terms is that I don't wait to seek treatment until my symptoms are so bad that I am in significant pain, or perhaps beyond reasonable care, as many people who must pay a fee will do.
Having a nurse and a health station close to where the workers live on the plantation is an extremely important part of the pluckers benefits. There is a hierarchy of health care starting with 40 dispensaries spread throughout the plantation, which deal with minor problems, four health care centres where more serious issues are addressed and two hospitals which also have maternity wards. In addition to the nurses who go out into the community two days a week, there are four qualified doctors. Not only is medical advice dispensed, but there are programmes for nutritional advice as well.
The general rule is that Lipton pays for the health care of a worker and one wife and their children, but there are a number of polygamous marriages and as Richard Fairburn, the Managing Director for the Head Office of Kericho said, they don't turn anyone away. They have the only ambulance in Kericho, and it is on call for other community problems, usually car accidents.
As most people know, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is widespread in Africa. Lipton has a community campaign to educate the local population about HIV/AIDS. They pay for a community outreach programme which goes beyond the plantation, sending nurses into rural areas to teach people about safe sex, and also about living with HIV/AIDS. On one evening of the trip we were entertained by tea pluckers who sing traditional tribal songs, wearing very elaborate traditional robes. They accompany nurses into the community to spread information using song and dance, a very effective teaching method.
Photo credit: Katherine Younger from Kath Eats
On my last day in Kenya I went to see some sights with one of my colleagues and I was asking our driver about the health care system. He told me that if you have tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS the government will pay for your treatment, otherwise you are on your own. When I asked about people who were unemployed or who couldn't afford the fee, he shrugged his shoulders and said "Then you stay sick". We passed a public hospital and saw people lining out to the street waiting for medical attention. A far cry from the bucolic courtyard rose garden setting of the hospital in Kericho.
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