Healthcare and Agriculture in Mituntu, Kenya

21 06 2011

By Nina Woolley

Rising senior; Candidate for B.S. in Biology and Certificate in Global Health

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of SOTENI Kenya or SOTENI International.

As usual, the time has been flying by. I have been in Mituntu for a full two weeks now, but I am sadly leaving tomorrow to return to Nairobi and then move on to Mbakalo in Western Province. So much has happened in these past two weeks!

As I mentioned before, I enjoyed going with my host mom Regina to the health center (centre) where she is the in-charge nurse. I spent another day with her there, shadowing her in the consultation room with sick patients and assisting her in the antenatal care room by recording the patients’ information (weight, age, number of previous pregnancies, HIV status, etc.) while she did the check-up. Much of the work of the health center focuses on maternal and child health – from the antenatal care to delivery and postnatal care to immunizations for children – and all services for pregnant women and children under five are provided free of charge. An insecticide-treated net is also distributed to every pregnant woman seeking antenatal care, since malaria can lead to several pregnancy complications. I was interested to find out that all of the nets being distributed are donated by Family Health International. I told Regina that FHI has its headquarters right around the corner from Duke University, and she told me to let them know that their intervention has helped: she has personally seen the numbers of pregnant women suffering from malaria decrease since they started distributing nets.

Out of curiosity, I asked Regina what diseases bring the most number of patients to the health centre. Based on her records, the top ten under-5 morbidities are malaria, upper respiratory infection, diarrheal disease, intestinal worms, eye conditions, ear conditions, skin conditions, mumps, chicken pox, and burns, and the top ten over-5 morbidities are malaria, upper respiratory infection, intestinal worms, rheumatism, hypertension, eye conditions, ear conditions, STIs including HIV, typhoid fever, and skin conditions. Although I could have predicted several of those, I was surprised that hypertension is a common problem here, just like in the U.S., that children are vaccinated against measles but not mumps, and that rheumatism is within the top five reasons adults seek medical care at the centre.

Besides working at the health centre, I have done many other things in Mituntu. Most recently, I spent three days visiting 15 sponsored orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) to conduct needs assessments and update their sponsorship reports. The journey was not without complication – a SOTENI staff member’s cell phone was stolen, the car got two flat tires in one day, and we often visited students’ homes several times before finding them home – but eventually I managed to meet all 15 students and update their reports. What most struck me in visiting the children was seeing the effect of the drought on their families. Although the students fortunately have enough food when they are at boarding school, the persistent drought in the region has made lack of food a major concern for the students when they’re home on holiday and a big struggle for their families year-round. Many of the guardians of the OVC are small farmers who do not have irrigation. The drought has resulted in dried and withered crops in much of the area, reducing their food and income.

On a related topic, I spent part of two days visiting support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), during which an agricultural officer gave training on agricultural “value addition and utilization” (essentially, increasing crop yield and sales profits and promoting healthy nutrition). SOTENI has community health workers called “AIDS Barefoot Doctors” that provide care and support to 18 groups of PLWHA in this area. The agricultural officer had several interesting practical suggestions for the group members, such as suggesting that they create “trench gardens” at their homes for growing vegetables. He explained how to construct such a garden, including covering the bottom of the trench with a plastic sheet or plastic bags before replacing the soil and planting the vegetables, ensuring that the garden retains rainwater well and can grow even with limited rainfall. He also provided a detailed lesson on best nutrition practices based on local food availability, since nutrition is particularly important for health maintenance for PLWHA.

Participating in these several different projects has allowed me to get a very good sense of the community and the many different operations of SOTENI. I have felt particularly immersed and integrated with the life of the community here since I have been the only foreigner working with SOTENI for the past three weeks. I have had to adjust my notions of efficiency a little bit to accommodate the leisurely pace of life, but I have certainly enjoyed this remarkable experience! My “solo” period will end shortly, however, as tomorrow I will meet three American interns with whom I will be working for the rest of my stay in Kenya. I am looking forward to the work I will do with them, too!

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