SAVING BABIES IN KENYA: DIASPORA KENYAN MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) program.
When I started Uhai For Health Inc, my focus was more on offering health education and screening for non communicable diseases in Kenya. Since 2006 I have travelled back to Kenya every year with a team of doctors, nurses, and health educators to screen for diabetes, hypertension, cervical and breast cancer in different villages in Kenya. One of our volunteers in Kenya, a DPHN nurse at Tigoni, then working at Ndeiya Health Center, narrated to us how bad the infant and maternal mortality was in the region. In 2010, I travelled to Kenya and a visit to Pumwani Maternity Hospital confirmed her story. About 50 newborn babies die every month and mostly due to birth asphyxia (difficulty breathing). I could not imagine, a mother carrying her pregnancy full term, then losing that baby at birth just because the hospital does not have equipment to resuscitate the baby or birth attendants were not trained to do so. This is so traumatizing to mothers who do not even have support programs to help them deal with their losses.
This marked the beginning of another initiative by Uhai for Health Inc. Dr. Eslami a pediatrician at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center spearheaded this initiative. She enrolled four of us for the HBB program that was conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics at Harvard University. It was a two days course where volunteers across the country came together to learn the techniques of saving babies in low resource countries.
Upon completion of the program, Dr. Eslami was awarded a grant by the University of Massachusetts in Worcester Massachusetts that enabled us to buy equipments from China. On May 29th 2012, we arrived at Tigoni District Hospital to start a whole day training to Doctors, Nurses, Midwives, and Clinical Officers. They had all come from different hospitals including Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Ndeiya, Thigiu, Kiambu hospital, Muguga, Kikuyu, Karuri, kijabe, Lari and other private hospitals. We did the same trainings at Gatundu District Hospital and Embu provincial Hospital. Every person who participated was given a resuscitator and suction bulb to take with them, every location was given training kits to continue training other staff. Our goal is to have a trained personnel at every birth.
The Obstetrician and Gynecology Department at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center donated about 300 safe birthing Kits. This will help in reducing infections during delivery. These two efforts will help in fulfilling both the Millennium Development Goals #4 and #5 of reducing infant mortality and maternal mortality respectively.
Although the need is so much and sometimes an annual visit to screen, educate and offer medical services seem like a grain of sand in the sea, there is always a life touched or saved. Upon coming back to US, we have received some good news that two infants were saved through the HBB program at Gatundu District Hospital. This makes every trip, worth.
There are thousands of Kenyans in the Diaspora working in the Health care system. When you go back to Kenya to visit, go to your local church, educate the people, screen them for simple things like blood pressure. We are losing so many of our families, friends and neighbors due to preventable and manageable causes.
Jane teaching the women.
One of my areas of interest is health equality. I believe that access to affordable care is a Right and not a privilege. In Kenya, the healthcare system is such a mess. The is so much inequality, the government funded hospitals are just buildings, they lack equipments and medications to treat people. The citizens have lost faith in them and the staffs have very low morale. While there is a need for an epic overhaul, my family, my neighbor and my fellow countryman need some help. I am tired of people dying prematurely, every now and then, we are invited for prayers because a friend’s dad, mom, sister or brother have died of cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes etc, all these disease are preventable or manageable with good health care.
During my recent medical to Kenya, a nurse took almost two hours lunch break while women with little children waited on the benches to be seen. Where is the empathy? At the maternity ward full of women in active labor, there were only three nurses available, the working conditions are both unsafe for both the mother and her baby as well as for the nurse who is overwhelmed.
Next time when you visit our beloved Kenya, visit your government funded local health clinic, make a difference by educating people in your community or support one of the organizations that is doing such work.