Courtney Massaro
Frist Global Health Leader

Reporting from Les Cayes, Haiti

November 30


Yesterday and today I participated in a training called “Helping Babies Breathe” (HBB). The training materials are produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and our training was put on by a number of American doctors who do HBB trainings all over the world. I was lucky enough to be able to also participate as a trainer in the training, which was a lot of fun. There were about 40 people at our training—mostly nurses, though there were also a couple of doctors (but sadly no midwives). I had 6 women (all nurses) within my small training group.

The HBB curriculum teaches participants how to resuscitate a baby in resource-limited settings (i.e. all of Haiti). Using a Neo-Natalie blow-up baby I taught my group the basic steps of drying a baby, suctioning his/her mouth and nose, performing stimulation, and using a bag and mask to perform ventilations—all in hopes of resuscitating a baby who is born not breathing.  We practiced various scenarios including: a baby born with clear amniotic fluid, with meconium, with the baby crying right after having been suctioned, and with the baby not crying or getting a high heart beat after correctly being ventilated for a number of minutes.  Each of the participants were given training materials to use back at their specific clinics/hospitals to train additional staff, as well as a number of bags/masks and bulb suction devices to now use to resuscitate babies.

It’s amazing to think that such inexpensive/relatively low-tech products like a bulb suction device and a bag/mask can have such a dramatic difference on a baby’s outcome. It’s also very sad to think that without the proper training even in the presence of such devices, many providers here don’t make use of them.

I’ve had to resuscitate a number of babies at HIC, and each time I’ve been the only provider helping with the resuscitation. Often the nurses have told me that a baby looks dead—and why should I try to save him/her? When I have responded that the baby has a heartbeat, and is in fact not dead—which is why I’m working to get him/her to breathe again—they have laughed and thought me foolish. That mentality however, I think—I hope—is slowly changing. As the nurses I’ve consistently worked with have seen the fact that with proper resuscitation a baby can be brought “back to life”, they are at least telling me that they now see the utility in not automatically giving up on a baby, but instead trying to work to make him/her breathe.



No one from HIC came to the HBB training—despite the hospital having received a number of invitations—which is sad, but the training has inspired me to use any downtime during my night shifts to train the nurses I work with. Hopefully with such training—and seeing my example of resuscitating every possible baby—the night shift nurses will learn the HBB techniques and will be able to pass it on to the other maternity nurses, and save lots of babies lives in the days/months/years to come.

Likewise, I hope that the providers who were trained in the past two days go back to their institutions and train others—or at least serve as an example and spark some discussion—and in doing so help babies who might otherwise not been given a chance.

Courtney Massaro
Frist Global Health Leader

Reporting from Les Cayes, Haiti

November 22

First off, Happy Thanksgiving. I have an incredibly blessed life and am thankful for many things—but most relevant to this post is the fact that I’m thankful for the Frist Global Health Leaders Program.  Because of it, I have been given this amazing opportunity to come to Cayes and work at HIC. It has been—and I’m sure will continue to be—an incredible experience, and I am so grateful for the Program and for having been selected for it.

HIC as a hospital is trying to improve its HIV testing rates (a goal that I think is true in most hospitals in Haiti).  As such, testing rates are now closely scrutinized, and it has become clear recently that the maternity has pretty low rates of testing women while they’re here to give birth (last month was about 25%).  That low rate is in large part due to the fact that most women who come to the maternity have already been tested once during their pregnancy—sometimes multiple times—and so don’t need to be tested when they come to give birth. (The women who have had prenatal consultations typically bring their prenatal card when in labor, and that shows if/when they were tested and the results.) There is still however, a portion of the pregnant women who haven’t been tested—typically those who haven’t had any prenatal consultations—who do need to be screened when they arrive to give birth.

Between the hours of 9am to around 4pm those women who haven’t been tested can easily get tested, as there’s a woman who tests pregnant women—typically it’s those women who are at the hospital for their prenatal consultations, but she happily tests ones here to give birth too (and I’ve sat in and watched her counsel women and she does a great job). The problem however, is that when this woman isn’t at the hospital the pregnant women who haven’t been tested, can’t get tested. So for most of the afternoon, and all of the night shift, we aren’t able to test women who haven’t been tested during their pregnancy. This is particularly difficult given the short amount of time that the women stay in the hospital after they give birth (an average of 6 hours). I had a woman on Tuesday come in, give birth around midnight, and then want to leave at 7am. I tried to convince her to stay until 9am to get tested—she sadly stayed until around 8am (I checked on her before I had a delivery and she was there, but when I finished with the delivery and went to see her again she was gone).



We’re trying to work on ways to address this problem—but as far as I can tell it comes down to the lack of money to pay someone to offer testing during “off hours” and the lack of motivation on the part of the nurses/doctors/midwives. Until a real solution is found I’m just going to try to beg women to stay until they can get tested in the morning (which I was successfully able to do on Wednesday).

Courtney Massaro
Frist Global Health Leader

Reporting from Les Cayes, Haiti

November 15

Most days (or I should say nights rather)—I forget I’m working in Haiti. We have normal, beautiful deliveries with happy, healthy moms and babies. I got to catch twins the other day (!!), and the first was breech—which was quite exciting/stressful for me, as breech babies typically are sectioned in the U.S. and so the breech delivery skill-set is a dying art. Sure we have the occasional loss of power, or we run out of gloves, but overall things at the maternity run in a manner pretty similar to how they would back in the U.S.

And then there are nights where I am harshly reminded that I’m in a developing country, in a hospital with limited resources, where standards of patient care are—at times—very different, and where things happen that wouldn’t occur in the developed world. Below is a sad, frustrating, and a bit graphic example of such a case.

Last night a woman was carried into the delivery room with an IV already in place and fluid dripping. She had been brought from another hospital that was about 45 min away from Cayes. She had had an obstructed labor for the past three days. As a result, when she arrived her baby’s head (the baby had died—how long ago no one knows) was right at her perineum, but wouldn’t come out. Her vulva was terribly swollen and she looked incredibly worn out (which was more than understandable given what she’d been through). She was still having contractions—probably due to the fact that she was getting pitocin through her IV—but they weren’t doing anything but cause her pain.

We called the doctor on call to see what he wanted to do about this woman. It was clear to me—and the nurses—that no amount of pitocin was going to make that baby come out (unless the baby decomposed enough to be able to be pushed out with the pitocin induced contractions). I was concerned about her increasing risk for infection and for fistula formation—among other problems—and so was hoping the doctor would come in to perform a c-section (given that we had no vacuum or any other way I could think of to try to extract the baby vaginally). The doctor however, got mad at the intern for calling him, and said that the woman just needed pitocin and that was that. After the call, the nurses all lamented the doctor’s decision, but said that this was just how it was in Haiti—that women suffered. They were much more laisser-faire about it than I was—in large part I think because this is normal/expected to them, and (obviously) not for me.  I think also because I knew what materials we didn’t have, and how they could have changed the situation—and the nurses probably didn’t as well—that it made it that much more frustrating for me.

I struggled with trying to think of something we could do for her—but I couldn’t think of anything. (Being a new/inexperienced midwife is hard at times because I wanted to help this woman so very much, but have never been taught about how to address obstructed labor—I’ve only read about it and its consequences—and don’t have any experience with it (until now), or anyone to offer me advice as to the best treatment plan.)

In the end we—tragically—monitored the woman all night. She made no progress and didn’t get any rest because of her contractions. I happened to be at the hospital this afternoon (around 3pm) and saw her finally heading back for a c-section. I can only hope that she has no long-term consequences of this birth—though I’m not too optimistic about that.

I realize this is not an uplifting post, but it is a reality that any healthcare worker who has the privilege to work—or wants to work—in the developing world will have to continually confront. My hope is that with time the norms will change, and appropriate resources/trainings will be provided to decrease the frequency of such cases, and ensure that women don’t have to just suffer.

Greetings

I have been with Susan for three weeks and have gotten a feel for how things work around here and the kinds of patients that come through the clinic. On Wednesday patients come in for vaccinations. Susan stores her vaccines at another facility because of lack of electricity and the cost of fuel to run a generator for the refrigerator. That has its costs as well since she has to pay transportation costs to go and retrieve the vaccines. Vaccines are provided free from the government and Susan charges a nominal fee for administering vaccines.

Last week it was announced that there was to be an area wide measles campaign for children less than five. We had about 200 little ones come through the door with various family members over 2 ½  days. It was an exhausting couple of days. We ran out of vaccine one day and many of the woman had walked far to get here. They were not very happy to have to return and have another a day away from farming etc.. We decided to draw straws for the last 4 vaccinations among about 30 women. There were very eager mothers to draw the right straw!

Open wide for a few drops of Vitamin A…before the injection

 

In the end I terrorized little ones, some because I gave them an injection and others because they have never seen a white person PLUS I gave them an injection. Susan and I did trade off making the kids cry.  

I did have the pleasure of meeting up with a cheerful four year old girl named Janet a few days later at a home of a friend. She announced to me that I had INJECTED her and showed me where I had committed the crime and the smudge mark we had made on her little finger indicating she had the vaccine. She seemed to forgive me.                                              

Janet showing me “the” arm

In the meantime my midwife friends would be happy to hear that I can actually find fetal heart beats and am batting about 50% in figuring out if the fetus head is engaged. I struggle with arms and legs and sometimes I think the head is the butt, but I am learning. The mothers seem tolerant of my role in their care and Susan tells me I am getting better at it. Note to my family practice friends, ante-natal care is a nice change from the sick patient. If you are in a rural area, it is a good skill to have, as long as you have a good referral network.

Warning for the squeamish, you might want to skip to the next paragraph or two.

I have now watched a couple of birth control “rod” implants in women’s arms. I am scheduled to do the next one that comes through the door. For those not familiar, a small incision is made in the underside of the upper arm and two flexible hormone rods about an inch long are inserted just under the skin to provide slow release of contraceptive hormones. No sutures required. The rods allow for five years of birth control or until taken out. It is one of the Millennium Goals for Kenya to emphasize long-term birth control options to improve the health of the woman and children. Spacing and fewer births are important for that goal. Both public and private clinics will be required to meet the goal.

Also, for all of us who are familiar with the PAP smears, the way that cervical cancer is detected here is definitely less costly and immediate. A sterilized cotton swab is soaked in household white vinegar, although I am told all brands are not alike. The swab is applied to the cervix. If the tissue reacts by turning white (VIA +), then you have a suspect case. Then another swab soaked in Lugol’s Iodine is applied the same way, and any tissue turning yellow is again suspect (VILI +). I had read about this method being used in India as well. Susan says she has found a few cases that were referred for treatment. Only one patient she referred died as the cancer was too advanced.

Otherwise we are seeing out share of respiratory infections, worms and amoebas, cuts, and rashes. There is no such thing as a text book case of any rash here! I recommend to my colleagues never leave home without an atlas of dermatological conditions and treatments. Furthermore, I was shown today a Nairobi fly that looks more like a long skinny beetle with longer antennae. If you are bitten you get shingle-like rashes. Having had shingles, it is one African experience I shall avoid.

Susan’s neighbor brought me Arabicum flowers and beet roots from her garden to welcome me to the neighborhood. The flowers are sold for export for about 10 shillings a stem (85 shillings to the US $). Consider that when next you buy flowers.

Courtney Massaro
Frist Global Health Leader

Reporting from Les Cayes, Haiti

November 9

Haiti—or at least what I’ve seen of it—is a very religious country. Although religion in Haiti may make people think of Voodoo—which is certainly still practiced—I however, have seen it mainly in the Christian incarnation. A significant number of the buses and trucks, as well as the stores around Cayes have Christian Bible verses/words on them/names, and there are churches (of various denominations) all over the city.  Women at the maternity often pray and sing through their labor/contractions, and many of the women—immediately after giving birth—say a prayer in thanks to Jesus. Two nights ago—at 3am—one of the laboring women started signing a song talking about “needing God”. Shortly after she started singing other people picked up the song and began to sing as well. For a good 5 minutes I’d say there were 15+ people singing this song (beautifully I might add), and then after the song faded they each started praying their own prayers. I seemed to be the only one who was astonished that everyone seemed to know the song and wanted to sing it, and that no one else thought it an inappropriate time (3am) to belt out a song and then start to pray loudly. I mention this story only because it was—for me—an incredibly unique experience, which gave me a better appreciation for the norms and beliefs of some (most, possibly) of my patients.

Sometimes—despite all our efforts to the contrary—women don’t make it to the delivery table in time to have their babies. This happens all over the world; babies get born in hospital beds because the nurses/doctors/midwives aren’t able to get there quick enough or the mom doesn’t realize the birth is so imminent, or any number of other factors. The difference however, is that here the births don’t just happen in the beds, but they also happen on the (not so clean) tile floor. We’ve had two such births on my recent shifts—both women trying to make it to the birthing room and falling short without properly notifying us of the fact that they were pushing.  Both times I’ve been the “baby nurse” after the birth and have apologized to the babies for having their entrance into the world be falling onto the cold tile. Luckily, they won’t remember it and neither were worse for the wear.

Apart from my work at the maternity I’m doing some less exciting—though I think still very important—work with one of the doctors in the Infectious Disease Department. I’m compiling a list of all the women who been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at the hospital and who have been pregnant within the last couple years (I’m start from 2010 until the present, but hope to get to 2008). From that list I’m trying to find all the women who should be taking their HIV/AIDS medications, but aren’t. The hope is that with such a list the community health workers—who work not only in Cayes, but in the surrounding areas—can track these women down and make sure they receive the (free) medications that they need to not only prolong their lives, but hopefully decrease the risk of transmission to future children and/or sexual partners.  Again not the most glamorous work, as it involves me sorting through two large registration books and trying to decipher the not-always-legible cursive Haitian names, but it will hopefully prolong and better some lives.

Frist Global Health Leaders

East Tennessee State University

College of Public Health

Munsieville, South Africa

November 2012

 

Courtney and I had the unique experience of helping a family in Mshenguville relocate their home. Mshenguville is an informal settlement within Munsieville, and the houses there are built on a hill. The houses at the bottom of the hill are in a flood-prone area with poor sewage facilities, and the families in these homes recently got permission from the local municipality to relocate to a different street near Mshenguville and move out of the flooded area. Mshenguville is sometimes referred to as a squatter’s camp because people come to the area to settle, claim an area of land, and build houses out of any available material. Because Mshenguville is an informal settlement, there is no government assistance in providing houses and resources for the community. The government simply gave the families permission to move and would not be providing new houses for the families, so anyone that wanted to move would have to do so on his or her own.

 

We had the opportunity of helping a woman named Celine and her mom with the moving process. We knew Celine’s mom from the GardenSoxx® class, and when we heard they were relocating we volunteered to help. We started by preparing the site for the new house. We smoothed out the ground, cleared away the rocks, and leveled the dirt in order to create a solid foundation before the house could be physically moved to the new site.

 

A few days later, Celine, her family, and a group of men started the relocation process. They first had to disassemble the house piece by piece. Then they moved all the furniture, clothing, and pieces of corrugated metal that would be used to reconstruct the house to the new site that Courtney and I helped clear. By the time we arrived in the afternoon to help rebuild the house,  a great deal of progress was already made with the men doing the majority of the physical labor. Courtney and I helped hold a few pieces of metal in place while the men nailed it together, and we watched as the last side of the house was completed. Some of the metal pieces used to construct the house had corroded and could not be used in the reconstruction. The house had to be rebuilt smaller than originally intended because of a shortage of corrugated metal pieces to rebuild the house to its original size. Celine, however, remained positive that she could one day get more materials and expand her house, and she was glad to finally be moving away from the flooded area of Mshenguville.

 

This week we are compiling health education information and creating pamphlets for the community that will be kept at the Children’s Embassy. We had a meeting with the women in the Health Promotion Unit and discovered that there is a great need for the community to have general health information. Our preceptor asked us to create a series of brochures that would cover health topics such as nutrition and exercise, proper hand-washing technique, HIV/AIDS information, puberty, tuberculosis, and drug and alcohol abuse. We gladly agreed and will be creating different brochures for different age groups and making sure the information is culturally sensitive to the community. We will be writing the information in English and then people at the Children’s Embassy will translate the information to the various tribal languages spoken within Munsieville.

 

Also, this week we will be conducting part three of our research methods class. This will be the last part of the class, and we will be teaching Excel skills. After the last class, we asked the students to come up with their own short survey and then distribute it to people so that real data could be obtained. If all goes well, they will return with their survey results and we can input the data into Excel to be analyzed. We hope that the students in the class will leave with a better understanding of how to correctly develop and distribute a survey and use Excel to analyze the results. This way they can better understand the community in which they live.

 

It is hard to believe that Courtney and I have just over a week left in Munsieville. Our time is quickly coming to an end, and I want to savor this last little bit of time before we have to leave this wonderful community. Our sincere “thank you” to the Hope Through Healing Hands and Niswonger Foundations for helping make this incredible experience possible for both Courtney and me.    We hope we made you proud.

 

Sarakay Johnson

 

 

Courtney Massaro
Frist Global Health Leader

Reporting from Les Cayes, Haiti

November 1

Last week I started working nights. I work three nights, then have three off. I’ve decided that despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the night shift, that this is the way that I can be the most useful to the Maternity staff. During the day there is an overabundance of staff: 3-4 nurses, 1-2 interns, and 6 (or so) nursing students from the nursing school associated with HIC. At night however, there’s one intern and 1-3 nurses. As a result, at night I’m actually able to not only use my skills as a provider, but decrease the patient burden that each provider has—thus (I hope) improving the care those women/infants receive.

When I arrived to work last night I was immediately clear that we had more patients than beds (we have 20 beds in the maternity—and moved back to HIC Sunday during the day to a cleaner and dry hospital). There were pregnant women and their various friends/family outside on the benches, sitting on chairs in the back of the ward and on any available floor space, and generally milling about.

Most women stay in the Maternity about 6 hours after delivering, so I typically don’t get to see the women I’ve labored with/caught after the end of my shift. So I was delighted to be hailed by a woman I recognized from the night before occupying one of the beds. I had labored with her for a while and had had broken conversations in French/Creole trying to encourage her through her labor (although I speak French, my Creole level is about that of a 2 year old and she only spoke Creole, so you can imagine how profound my encouragement was). She was a G8P7 (meaning she’d be pregnant 8 times, and had 7 living babies, she’s now a G8P8), and just seemed tired, and (from what I can gather) didn’t think she was going to be capable of pushing her baby out. I reassured her that I knew she’d be able to—and of course she had—as I saw her beautiful baby girl lying next to her. I admired the baby and congratulated her, and then went to see about the other patients.

Among them I found a women who had arrived sometime in the early morning of the previous day—as I recognized both her and her husband. At some point during the day she had been given a bed, and was receiving a Pitocin infusion to help move her labor along. This woman was a trooper—she labored hard and long all night.  Despite finally dilating to 10cm the head nurse and the doctor on call that night didn’t think that her pelvis was going to be large enough for the baby to come out (I disagreed, but didn’t feel I could argue my case to them, as it wasn’t my decision) and so around 5am we told her and her family that at 6 she was going to get a c-section. I’d talked a lot with her family members and the woman throughout the night as I encouraged her through her labor and helped her find ways to relieve her back labor pain. As a result, it was always me that her family came to to talk about her case. They were distressed about her having to wait until 6 to give birth, as she was so tired from the sleepless, painful night. I couldn’t say much to that, only that I thought she was doing a great job laboring and that her baby was going to come soon (one way or another). Around 5:30 she finally got the urge to push, and push she did. I was lucky enough to have been able catch her baby girl. She and her family were thankful and overjoyed at the birth, and I was really happy that she got to deliver vaginally—as I though she could all along—and that I got to participate in the birth.


So I left off Blog #1 at my arrival at Samaria clinic on the Kaburu family compound near Ndathi in the Kubaru region.

Susan Kaburu      

Susan is a RN midwife and like her private clinic colleagues acts more as a family nurse practitioner. She assesses and diagnoses and prescribes medication or other treatments and now refers out for deliveries and more complicated cases.

                        

The so-called road to Samaria clinic

 

Susan tells me that off the road to Samaria Clinic live about 20-30 families or about 100-150 individuals. Most are subsistence farmers. Today the crops are spinach, carrots, cabbage, arrowroot, beets, and potatoes. A big bag of carrots goes for 500KS or $US 5.50 but the carrots being grown here are a variety that is “too fat”” for the hotel and grocery store market, so that the carrots are sold for cow feed at 70 KS a bag. We also see beautiful heads of cabbage left to rot because lack of transportation to a marketplace.

                             

The clinic patients speak the tribal language of Kukuye . Most children are taught English in school so some understand it but they are somewhat not willing to go out on a limb and talk to me. I don’t blame them. I felt the same about my French. Susan encourages them to speak to me in English but does translate for me, especially when the patient has the “deer caught in the headlights” look when I talk to them.

The Samaria Maternity Hospital was established about 10 years ago and up to somewhat recently had three midwives, a lab tech, and four maternity beds for overnight stays. Women came at all hours to deliver. When not delivering, the nurses tended to the

general illnesses or trauma events that happened in the community. It was an exhausting schedule. Susan had also been known to enlist the services of her daughters Njeri and Anne. Njeri tells a hilarious story of being stopped on the road by a delivering mother and having to find a wheel barrel to transport the mother to Samaria in time for delivery.                                                                                                                 

A few years ago a public maternity hospital was opened a few kilometers away and at the same time the exhausting schedule had taken its toll on Susan. She no longer delivers babies and now refers mothers for deliveries. She does still provide antepartum and postpartum care, just not the deliveries. She is the sole practitioner at the clinic and works 9-6pm Monday –Friday and half day on Saturday. This is now my schedule.

 

 

Courtney Massaro: First Report from Haiti

Hurricane Sandy and I Arrive

Oct 29 2012

Courtney Massaro
Frist Global Health Leader

Reporting from Les Cayes, Haiti

0ctober 26

Hello. My name is Courtney and I’m a Certified-Nurse Midwife and Family Nurse Practitioner who arrived in Haiti on Monday (the 22nd). I’m working and living in a town called Les Cayes (or just Cayes for short), which is in the south of the county about a 4-hour drive from Port-au-Prince. I’m working at the Hospital of the Immaculate Conception (HIC), which is the main public hospital for Les Cayes (and for a significant portion of the surrounding areas).

I’m quickly getting settled into life in Cayes, and think that I’m really going to enjoy my work and time here.

As some of you may know however, Hurricane Sandy developed this week, and certainly made my first week here interesting.  Cayes is right on the ocean—meaning at sea level—meaning that with lots of rain (i.e. daily, hard rain for 3 days straight) much of the town floods. The hospital—tragically—is not at all elevated, so it succumbed to the same fate as much of the town (see photo’s of me walking to work and the hospital). The largest building—which currently houses the maternity and men’s and women’s surgical post-op—is the lowest of them all. “Luckily” in order to get into that building there are ~1.5 foot high concrete walls (dams of sort) build into the doors—meaning you have to step over them to get into the building and that they prevent water from entering the building even if the hospital grounds are flooded. Despite these barriers (which were working) the maternity and the birthing room still had an inch of water covering it (I was told it came from underground and seeped through the floor tiles). We (the maternity nurses and doctors) worked for a day like this, but eventually the hospital closed and moved the maternity patients to a Canadian ophthalmology hospital on higher ground. It’s finally stopped raining today, so hopefully things will dry out quickly and we’ll be able to get back to HIC soon.

Despite the rain and the craziness with moving hospitals I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with the nurses and doctors that I have. They provide the best care they can, given the resources they have available to them (which are pretty limited by American standards).

 

Hospital Entrance with Flooding

October 28

One of the things that has struck me about my work thus far in the maternity (we’re still at the Canadian hospital, although the town has dried out completely) is how family friendly it is. There is one woman on the service who has been hospitalized for at least 4 days, and 3 of her female family members (including a 1 year old) have basically moved into the hospital with her. They sleep in spare beds right next to the woman (who is hospitalized because at 20 weeks she’s been having contractions) and seem to just spend there entire day hanging out with her.

When I got to my night shift last night that woman’s family were there—as always—and there must have been 15 other visitors (of both genders) who had come to see their respective friends/family members who were at the maternity.

Most of the time the visitors are women—but we’ve had a couple husbands come to support their laboring wives. Those men have dutifully walked up and down the hallway with their wives supporting them when they have contractions, and in general have just been with them. Although the women are alone in the delivery room those husbands who are present are typically waiting anxiously outside and peer in as soon as we open the door (after the birth).

I think that it’s great that the nurses and doctors don’t mind family members sleeping in the spare beds, and on the floor when there aren’t spare beds (as was the case with the number of patients/visitors we had last night). Additionally, I really like that family and friends are so involved, supportive of the woman while she’s hospitalized, and in the case of births so excited about the new baby.

 

Elizabeth Harris

Frist Global Health Leader

Reporting from Ndathi, Kenya

With the assistance of VIGH staff and faculty, I was introduced to a VU School of Nursing alumna, Poppy Buchanan. Poppy among other pursuits and after extensive world travels established a 501(c) 3 called Burning Bush Inc. (BB).  Since inception BB has supported local community efforts in the Kabaru area of central Kenya. The organization has supported establishment of a private maternity hospital in Ndathi and support of the WAKA Maternity Hospital and establishment of the WAKA Continuing Education Center in Nyeri. Additionally, BB has provided grants to establish micro-lending organization in the Kabaru location. Since my interest is rural family practice, the opportunities to work with BB grant recipients seemed to offer me a wonderful opportunity to begin to realize a long-held vision of working in Africa. More on Burning Bush later.

It is my understanding that Kenya’s government health care system requires that healthcare professionals retire at 55 years old. This undoubtedly leaves a pool of experienced professionals with a bit more mileage yet to be realized in the health care arena. Nearing that age, I must admit that it feels a bit too young to be told you are done. I suppose on the other hand, it does offer a way to be nudged into other occupational or advocational pursuits; or perhaps just a chance to enjoy the “fruits of your labors”. At any rate, some nurses establish private health clinics in their “twilight years”. It may often be the case that these clinics are the only healthcare facility accessible for a community that may cover several square miles. Unless it is an emergency, most clients walk to the clinic and receive any number of health services, depending on the clinic capacity. I will learn more about this system and community issues and will add information in future blog entries.

Kenya! Finally!

I have been talking, reading and writing about Kenya since April and I have finally arrived. Arriving late night October 22nd at Kenyatta airport in Nairobi I was met by Mina (Peter) Kumanya and promptly taken back to his home where I met my host and Minar’s mother, Rosemary, and Minar’s girlfriend Brenda.  Despite my late arrival, Brenda had prepared supper and we all sat down and ate well and visited. Rosemary gave me a review of my schedule and we agreed to meet after her morning meetings to go to the Kenya Nursing Council to pick up my temporary nursing license.

Rosemary a nurse midwife is among other things provides training under the auspices of a JHPIEGO program run out of Nairobi. She and her late husband also established and run the WAKA Maternity Health clinic and Continuing Education Center in Nyeri. Rosemary splits her time in Nairobi, traveling for JHPIEGO around Africa and in Nyeri.  Rosemary has been my primary point of contact and has graciously helped arrange my clinic site stays and generally my maneuvering around Kenya. A well-travelled and experienced midwife, I look forward to learning much about and from her, .More later.

October 23rd

Today I went to the Kenya Nursing Council with Rosemary. It is clear that Rosemary is well received by the staff and Registrar of the Council. After paying my temporary license fee Rosemary and I went to speak with the Standards Officer where we discussed my plans for the next three months. She was quite interested in the Frist Fellowship and the mission of service and collaboration to improve global healthcare. She was open in saying that my site visits were among the best in delivering care in Kenya. We also met with the KNC Registrar who also welcomed me to Kenya and was also interested in the purpose of my visit.

I might point out that the expedited way I received my temporary license, a process that I have heard take months, in days was quite impressive. I am told that during October the Council is busy processing the 3,000 + nursing licenses for the new batch of nurses, so the fact my application was processed so quickly reflects the organizational prowess of the KNC, or that of Rosemary’s willingness to shepherd my application through the process for me, or both. At any rate, I am the proud recipient of a Kenyan temporary nursing license.

Later that afternoon, Mina and I went to a safari walk in Nairobi, akin to the San Diego zoo. Few fences and lots of open spaces. Saw my first albino zebra. Then on to do some errands for me. I had to change some money and pick up a wireless thumb drive for connection to safaricom, Kenya’s largest wireless internet provider. For 3,000 Kenyan Shillings (KS) or about US$33, I have internet access and up to 4 GB of downloads which expires sometime in January. In Tennessee I paid US$60 per month for internet access at home only.

Before I left, my kind cousin Shirley Wayne gave me the phone she uses in Africa which included a SIM card for use in Kenya. Shirley and her husband Scott have a consulting business to help promote tourism in developing areas and are often in Africa. Anyway, through Airtel, a wireless mobile provider, I can prepay for my phone usage. Whenever I run low for minutes, I can “top off” at any number of authorized vendors, including the sundries shops in rural villages. I am told KS$1,000 (US$11) will keep me going for unlimited text and calls for over a month. Kenya is way ahead in ease of use of mobile telephones. No pesky two year contracts or limitations. Is that free market or protectionism?  Unlike US control, SIM cards are not locked so phones can be used many more places with the use of a new SIM card for the local phone network. Although you may not have electricity, many have mobile phones which they use for banking transfers and bill paying.

October 24th

After a stop at the grocery store for supplies in Nairobi, Minar and I headed up to Ndathi about a 3ish hour journey north of Nairobi. I am told that the road from Nairobi to Nyeri was recently built under the direction of the Chinese and meets the standards of the discerning traveler. Up until a few months ago it was a bumpy ride. At Nyeri the road to Ndathi becomes dirt and is under renovation; bit bumpy but an easy passage in comparison to the road to Samaria Maternity Hospital. It is a kilometer of mud holes and crevasses. It is the rainy season and were told to get to the clinic before 1PM lest we wanted to get stuck for the foreseeable future. Despite Mina’s stellar driving, we got stuck in a mud crevasse and had to enlist the assistance of neighbors and passerby to push us out. My host Rosemary Kaburu walked down to meet us and despite her dress shoes and lab coat assisted in the pushing. I can tell she is a can-do- kind of woman. By the way, dry brush under wheels can act as tire chains. When Mina picks me up he will use the 4 wheel drive.

Samaria is on the grounds of Susan’s family’s compound. We were greeted by Susan’s sister Nancy. After having dropped my bags in my room in Susan’s home, I was offered a bit of sustenance of chapatti (a wheat flour thick crepe) with cabbage and carrots. The fields are bursting with beautiful big cabbage and carrots that would make Whole Foods green with envy. Everything is delicious. No rest for the weary so we walk the 50 feet or so over to the clinic and began seeing patients.  

Subscribe to our newsletter to recieve the latest updates.