Kenya Trip Notes from the Field: Liz Reed

By Liz Reed, Orinda, CA, MedShare Supporter

Hi All,

When I sat down to blog about the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, I couldn’t help thinking instead about our time spent with a beautiful Kenyan woman! The soft early morning air and the play of light and mist held her story aloft.

Joyce Kiereini is nothing short of a walking miracle, — a Masai woman with a mission! Co-founder of R.E.T.O., she steers this organization of Masai women leaders in working for the betterment of Masai women and girls in the areas of health, female genital mutilation and economic opportunities.

Joyce grew up in a tribal culture in which a female lives out her entire life first under the dominion of her father’s will and then under that of her husband. Here are some of the examples Joyce gave of Masai life: The Masai daughter is of little value, so at the age of 11, 12 or 13 is “given away.” The Masai woman is subject to the traditional practice of female genital mutilation. She is subject to her husband’s permission in order to obtain a doctor’s care in childbirth, even in life-threatening circumstances.  She is subject to her husband’s adulterous behavior, putting her at risk for HIV/Aids. The wife has no say in matters of money; money earned is her husband’s. She may not even vote in an election for a candidate which her husband does not sanction! Oftentimes she is left with the burdens of household chores, children, and animals alone while her husband either sits idle or leaves for long periods of time, even months.

So how is it that we even get to sit here to listen to Joyce’s story?

Joyce’s life took a big detour from the typical path. Her mother died when she was so young that Joyce has no memory of her. Her older sister cared for her until she was “given away.”  She took Joyce to live with her and her husband. Her sister made sure she went to school, although it is unusual for a girl to get a formal education. Until the age of 18, Joyce did not know who her father was. Joyce believes it is because of the loving care of her sister and the broken chain of paternal influence that she escaped her fate.

Her mission involves teaching women about how to handle money, practice safe sex and enact family planning, and how to care for their own health. Some teaching includes the partners of these women. The old beliefs and behaviors may be hard to reckon with, but Joyce persists. She gave us an example of how the organization wanted to give money to some of the women (can’t remember what for, maybe micro business), and insisted the money would not be given to their spouses, as is the custom. Many could not make this promise, so the money would not be given to them. I’m sure she had much more to share, but we needed to leave for Nairobi Women’s Hospital.

As I listened to Joyce tell her story I felt the great passion she has for the lifework she has chosen. She is at once gentle and strong, compassionate and courageous. She has made the leap out of “the stable” and is calling to those who can hear. Hers is a life dedicated to shepherding her Masai sisters as they journey into the most blessed tradition: a life lived through the inspiration of Freedom!

This post is part of a series we’re doing over the coming days while MedShare staff, Board of Trustee and Council members travel through Kenya from February 17 – 27. We invite you to share the experience with them by reading their stories; to access them, click on the “Africa Trip“  icon in the right sidebar. Safe travels, team!

Kenya Trip Notes from the Field: Terry Blum

By Terry Blum, MedShare Board of Trustees

Monday, February 20, 2012

I am Terry Blum and I have the privilege to serve on MedShare’s board.  This is my second trip with MedShare, and it is a wonderful journey in terms of learning and sense-making.   Quite frankly, I am not sure I can construct meaning from all that I am sensing from my eyes, ears, mouth, fingers and nose.  I am also sensing from my heart, making this whole experience so difficult to justly describe.  As someone who is quite cerebral in everyday life, this adventure touches below my head into my heart and reaches into the region of feeling and intuition.  The incredibly rich tapestry of the lenses of the people with whom I am touring, all of whom awesome in their own way, is coupled with the wisdom of those we visit.  I know I will not be the same when I return as I was when I left Atlanta in that huge airplane.

Spotted in Kenya

After wonderful bonding and familiarizing ourselves with the agenda, we got into the reason for MedShare today by first visiting St. Mary’s Nairobi and then Partners for Care.   I will report on Partners for Care which is part of the mHealth alliance which engages in mobile health initiatives among other things.

The group transitioned from St. Mary’s to Partners for Care with lunch at the incredible Safari Park Hotel, where Sam (communications director) and Samuel (director in Kenya) from Partners for Care joined us.  The grounds of the Safari Park are quite elegant and could have been a movie scene from colonial times or an upscale suburb anywhere.   The food and the group’s camaraderie are awesome, but the contrast with the needs of so many is evident as one passes by the slums of Kibera (2nd largest in the world after Soweto with estimates of 1-2 million residents), near St. Mary’s, or the living in Mararui (estimates of 26-30,000 people).

En route to the clinic, we rode on a really bumpy road that went on for quite a while.  Somewhere in the middle of the road, we crossed a functional bridge, which may or may not be completed connecting segments of the bumpy road.  We passed banana trees, construction sites, snakes, local markets and lots of scenery.  We came to a stop outside a building that was the initial Partners for Care destination for most of us.  The signage said,  What if?  Life Changing Center.   “What if?”  is a question of what it would be like  if there were no AIDS in Kenya.

"What If" signage in Kenya

While most of us went into the clinic building, Lindsey Barber and Charlie Evans went into Mararui, lined with drainage system that empties into the river where the drinking and washing water come from, with Peter from Partners for Care.  Peter took them to visit a friend’s home as well as take some measurements to show how the mHealth android works.  The device relays vital signs information and pictures to Dr. Vincent at the clinic. It is a triage device with Dr. Vincent gives instructions for caring for the patient or asks for more information.  Each entry is a new record, but the patient’s information gets integrated into a record stored on the server.

Partners for Care Clinic

Partners for Care was founded by Atlanta nurse, Connie Scheren, who came to the MedShare store for supplies for her medical team mission trip.  It has 8 programs in addition to the clinic.  As we walk past the goat on the corner into the What if?  building through the door with Clinic written on it, we found a world of hope and love.  In the space that was opened 2 years ago, there is a one room clinic, class room for their Second Chance program that prepares 20 students for the national graduation exam with 2 years of education.  There is also a computer room, with no internet access, that serves 20 adult students at a time.  Forty-five or so have received or are receiving training and 20 have found jobs.

PET cart that was sent to Kenya on a MedShare container

Going into the clinic run by Dr. Vincent we saw a PET, personal energy transport vehicle which was sent in a MedShare container.  Other programs include sports programs for the kids, with volunteer coaches, including a policeman who was tired of just arresting them, a home for orphans run by Pastor John who also help widows, distribution of 500 treated malaria nets to households with kids under 5,  the wonderful music group Temple of Worship that draws crowds for AIDS awareness and prevention.  There is also an 8k race that is run at the same time as a 5K in Atlanta (the Kenyans finish the longer race quicker!).

A Kenyan Doctor

The Marcibit program is really striking.  Partners for Care serves one of the most impoverished sections of Kenya.  350 people with jiggers, a kind of parasitic flea that enters the skin and reproduces so the people, especially kids, can’t walk.  The inflammation is incredible and 350 have been treated with  antibacterial soap and water after which the site is covered with Vaseline.  89 have been provided with shoes that can help prevent it.

The health programs are important as 473 Kenyan children under 5 die every day, 71 due to HIV/AIDS, 93 to malaria….90% of these deaths are due to preventable causes!  So Partners for Care is there to help reduce child deaths.

Our visit was truly inspirational….we were sung to with a Jambo (welcome) song which included Hakuna Matada, reminding me of the Lion King and the Circle of Life!  They also sang a song “Smile”…happy for you… will lift you up, hold your hands, loose your pain, so you smile again. They ended our visit by singing “That Little Light of Mine” in English and Swahili….We left on our bus singing “That little heart of mine, let it shine,” knowing the love in the hearts of the Partners for Care.  The passion and inspiration of the Kenyans who spend so much energy to do their work to serve their own people is a memory I will always cherish.  They are rich in spirit, and thanks to them there is a little more light shining for many.

This post is part of a series we’re doing over the coming days while MedShare staff and Board of Trustee members travel through Kenya from February 17 – 27. We invite you to share the experience with them by reading their stories; to access them, click on the “Africa Trip“  icon in the right sidebar. Safe travels, team!

MedShare Ships Container of Medical Aid to Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe

On June 1, MedShare’s Western Regional Distribution Center loaded and shipped a 40-foot ocean container with medical humanitarian aid for Zimbabwe, Southern Africa.  According to a 2009 WHO report, “the situation in Zimbabwe is characterized by the ‘triple threat’ of poverty and food insecurity, weakened human and material capacity of government and high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates.  The health system is very challenged in terms of human resources for health, health financing, drugs and equipment and the overall service delay.”

Over one thousand individual boxes of medical supplies and equipment donations were loaded onto the container that shipped from MedShare today, including ambu bags, surgical blades, tracheotomy tubes, splints, IV sets, a stretcher, 2 exam tables, blood pressure monitors, and much more.  The Harare-based local NGO Spiritage Health will be receiving the container and distributing the supplies amongst several hospitals and clinics that serve the poor, including the Southmed Chitungwiza Hospital, Citimed Southmed Hospital, Citimed Suburban Hospital, and St. Michaels Hospital.

Dr. M.C. Wazara, Spiritage Health Director, comments:

“There has been a drought in many of the provinces of our agriculturally based country and it is anticipated that food aid will be required to sustain people to the next cropping season.  Whenever this happens, diseases related to poor sanitation and general infection are on the rise.

Another fact is that due to the underfunding of our health sector, there is always an ongoing humanitarian crisis created by inadequate supplies, unserviceable equipment and shortage of qualified staff.  It is in these three areas that our organization works and would apply the donated resources.  You gifts will be directed towards relieving urgent situations. Our national health infrastructure has been so stretched that it will be a long time before the need for aid becomes unnecessary.”

Container leaving the Western Region for Zimbabwe

MedShare sends special thanks to our partners at International Relief and Development and Global Assistance for their support in shipping this container.  Also special thanks to the UPS Foundation for their generous financial sponsorship of this project.

Global Atlanta repost: MedShare Strengthens Ties With Congo-Kinshasa


On April 20, 2011, MedShare was pleased to welcome His Excellency Dr. Victor Makwenge Kaput, Minister of Health, Democratic Republic of Congo and Dr. J. M. Kalonji, Multi-Sector Advisor, Ministry of Heath. They visited MedShare to discuss future container shipments to Congo. Dr. Makwenge detailed their current healthcare system and struggles, and his plans to improve it.

Global Atlanta’s Ann Cantrell covered the visit, and we wanted to share her article with you.

MedShare Strengthens Ties With Congo-Kinshasa

By Ann Cantrell

The Democratic Republic of the Congo that has been ravaged by years of war and suffers from an inadequate health care system will be receiving much needed medical supplies from an Atlanta-based charity, which is strengthening its ties with the CentralAfrican country.

As part of its mission to provide poorer countries with surplus medical supplies from the U.S., MedShare International will be sending three 40-foot containers from Decatur to the impoverished country by the end of May.

Valued somewhere between $150,000 to $200,000, each container will have supplies such as sonographic and X-ray machines, patient monitoring systems and equipment used to administer anesthesia during surgeries.

Since 2004, MedShare already has sent 25 containers to the Congo, but even this sizable contribution has been woefully inadequate to serve the needs of the country’s 71 million inhabitants.

“In the United States, $8,047 was spent on health care per person in 2009. By comparison, the Democratic Republic of the Congo spends $4 per person … Situations like this are why MedShare is here,” David Pass, MedShare’s chief advancement officer, told GlobalAtlanta.

In keeping with its growing relationship with MedShare, Victor Makwenge Kaput, the Congo’s minister of health,  and two other representatives from the ministry, visited the headquarters on April 20 to tour the facility and discuss future partnerships.

Nell Diallo, vice president of corporate and international relations, told GlobalAtlanta they are seeking corporate sponsors and have begun discussions with the Coca Cola Co., Western Union Co., and DHL Express, an international mail service, to assist with shipping and funding.

MedShare depends on corporate and private sponsors to fund its operations of gathering leftover medical supplies and equipment from hospitals in the U.S. and redistributing them in underserved communities. The organization has sent containers to more than 30 countries including Afghanistan, Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Victor Makwenge Kaput, the Democratic Republic of Congo's minister of health, at MedShare's headquarters in Decatur.

During his visit to the MedShare headquarters and disribution facility, Mr. Kaput outlined some of the health problems in the country to Ms. Diallo, Mr. Pass, A.B. Short, CEO and co-founder and other staff,

Each year, 350,000 children in the Congo do not live past five-years and 3,600 women pass away due to pregnancy complications, according to the health minister. “Each second, children die because of no medical care. Each second, women die because of pregnancy complications,” he added.

According to Mr. Kaput, there are also 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS and many suffer from malaria.

After years of war involving half-a-dozen neighboring countries, he said the health care system was decimated. And even though the war officially ended in 2003, the conflict continued within the country particularly in the east, eventually killing more than 5 million people in the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

Years of war destroyed the infrastructure of hospitals and clinics and the government only provides the Ministry of Health with $70 million a year for expenses, Mr. Kaput said, adding that $70 million would not even be sufficient to fund the construction of a single hospital.

Due to the lack of government funding, the ministry looks to non-profits, non-governmental organizations and religious groups for funding, equipment and physicians, he said.

More than 80 percent of its funding comes from these organizations, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, bringing its budget in the Congo from $1 to $4 for each person per year, he said.

Mr. Kaput said he wants to increase this amount to $14 per person each year, repair damaged public hospitals, improve distribution of supplies to rural areas, bring more doctors to the country and re-develop medical research programs.

Working towards these goals, he added that the health ministry is working with South Africa to bring back thousands of Congolese doctors that relocated during the wars and increase their salary from $200 to $1,000 per month.

The health minister and his colleagues concluded their visit to Medshare with a tour of the warehouse and distribution center.

For more information, visit http://www.medshare.org.

Thanks to Global Atlanta for the great coverage! We look forward to working with the Minister to improve healthcare in the DRC.

To view photos of the Minsiter’s visit, click here.