CIVIL war has far-reaching consequences, and often individuals caught up in the turmoil undergo a lot of physical and mental torture that lasts long after the atrocities.
Many of the victims experience complications that range from constant headache, mood swings and irritation. They are compelled to seek medical interventions, which barely resolve their ailments.
Such has been the case for the residents of Eastleigh in Nairobi; an area that is largely inhabited by Kenyan Somalis and those from the neighbouring state wracked by civil war for over 20 years, and which has not had a stable government since 1992.
"We kept receiving patients who frequented our hospital, and would always complain of the same symptoms," says Abdikadir Warsame, the head of Tawakal Medical Centre, which is located in the heart of Eastleigh.
The expansive estate made numerous headlines in the last quarter of last year. Close to 10 grenade attacks were carried out in less than two months, which led to the deaths of several people and left scores injured.
"While conducting our needs assessment, we counted eight gang groups comprising refugees, most of whom had escaped from Somalia due to war," Warsame, himself a Somali, says. Most of the squad members they met were traumatised and had opted to regroup as a way of venting out their frustrations.
Tawakal, in conjunction with the African Mental Health Foundation, has since established a support network to provide a deeper understanding of the challenges that face the community, especially refugees, while offering basic counselling skills to assist in recovery.
"We would administer treatment to them, but they kept coming back, and would complain about all manner of illnesses such as diarrhoea, persistent headache and nightmares," said Warsame, a middle-aged man, who works round the clock in a busy clinic, as he seeks to unravel the mystery surrounding the unending mental tortures of his kinsmen.
"We noticed that the anguish was more mental than physical. We opted to seek professional opinions from experts at the University of Nairobi and other interest groups who agreed to team up with us."
After careful studies were conducted by the specialists, they discovered that most of the patients were suffering from "hapa hapa" [here and there] syndrome, a situation that has been coined from a Tanzanian psychological condition that affects mostly refugees, due to their exposure to wars and attacks in their homelands.
'Hapa hapa' syndrome patients complain of pains in virtually all parts of their bodies. They tend to get irritated easily, are always ready to fight with no room for compromise, and also suffer from sleeping disorders, a situation that further explains their indulgence in miraa (khat) chewing, cigarette smoking, and now alcohol abuse.
Warsame says the discovery compelled them to go back to the University to study the conditions, as most of the patients appeared normal yet in real sense they would complain of multiple pains.
Upon acquiring knowledge on the subject, the team selected a group of trainers from within the locals, who were then taken through a five-week long intensive training programme in basic counselling.
After training, the first group of 30 youthful graduates was in December presented with counselling certificates. The programme aims to equip 240 counsellors to "liberate" the region from the endemic condition.
While admitting that the task ahead of them is not easy one, the elated graduands exuded confidence they will transform the region and help reunite the Somalis with the locals.
As mental health continues to be a major concern countrywide, a study carried out by AMHF to determine the availability and distribution of psychiatrists in Kenya established that most of the experts are concentrated in Nairobi and other urban centres.
The researchers now argue that if meaningful achievement in psychiatry is to be realised, alternative non-specialist training in mental health is a must, so as to address modern-day challenges.
Eastleigh is one of the city hubs that is riddled with illicit trading in drugs and firearms, and has in the recent past been singled out as one of the most insecure parts of Nairobi. It also has an influx of illegal immigrants from neighbouring states, and continues to remain a threat to national security.
In spite of its numerous challenges, the area stands out as an important economic hub and one of the busiest commercial centres.
"Most people here have made long journeys, and have become numb to any violent situations," Warsame explains, adding that his team will create over 15 support centres to reach out to the entire population within the area.
The team's primary target is the youth, most of whom are semi illiterate and continue to be used to effect the operations of the deadly al Qaeda-linked terror group, al Shabaab.
A programme officer from the Kenya Transitional Initiative, Elizabeth Ombati, explains that the underlying factors that have contributed to violence in the community include the perceived stigma from the public, which brands them as aliens and warlike.
"They leave their relatives' homes and go out to the streets, to run away from oppressions instigated by their relatives," Ombati says, adding that their desire to eke out a decent living has forced some of them to engage in unlawful and dangerous activities.