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Friday, August 21, 2009

Breaking the Barrier of Isolation

Mobile clinics bring health services to rural Kenya

NYANG’AITA, KENYA - The road leading to this tiny village cuts across a hot, dry plain, past cacti, brush, and impenetrable bush.  The road itself is rutted and dusty, potholed and washed out in places from the flash floods that occasionally pour down from the surrounding hillsides.  The going, even in a Land Rover, is slow.

We’re at least a two hour drive from the nearest health facility, and to an outsider, the region appears uninhabited.  Nyang’aita doesn’t have much: a water pump built by a church group, a tree’s shade for community meetings, and a cluster of shelters and huts that serve as a weekly market place.  Up the hill, a half finished health facility stands in the bright sun, the rooms filled with dust and the doors creaking on their hinges. 

For the people here, health care is something that happens outside, in a far away place.  Childbirth occurs almost exclusively at home, under the supervision of untrained traditional birth attendants.  It isn’t that people don’t want to use health facilities and trained professionals – the unfinished building on the hill is a regular feature of conversation with outsiders – but the nearest clinic is a 30 km walk through the hot, open desert.

One woman, a traditional birth attendant, says she has lost a number of children while working to deliver them. “When women in labor come to me at night with complications, I need to assist them to the nearest health facility, which is hours distance,” she says.  “Many women are lost along the way.”

HealthRight International has come here today with a mobile outreach team of health workers from the Kenya Ministry of Health, to bring maternal and neonatal health services to the women and children of Nyang’aita – services that can mean the difference between life and death for a mother and her newborn child.

Two outreach teams assemble in the shade of the trees.  One group provides immunizations and examinations for small children.  A scale hanging from a tree serves to measure progress.  A log serves as a seat from which to provide immunizations.

Down a small slope, pregnant women line up outside of a tent, where a health worker examines pregnant women and provides vital health information.  The examinations will help identify potential complications, so that women at risk can be referred to the nearest health facility for delivery. 

When today’s clinic is done, dozens of women will have received services that will help them have safe and healthy pregnancies and deliveries.  And dozens of newborns and children will receive immunizations and other care that will help them stay healthy and grow.

This mobile clinic is one part in HealthRight’s work to build lasting access to health for excluded communities like Nyang’aita.  HealthRight’s partnerships with the Kenya Ministry of Health (MoH) and with community health workers from the local villages is working at multiple levels to ensure that women and newborn children have access to the health care that is their right.  This has included renovating facilities, training MoH staff and community members, educating women and men about healthy practices during pregnancy and childbirth, and working with the MoH to bring quality health care to isolated communities.

HealthRight has been working in the region since 2005 to build lasting access to a range of health services, including HIV prevention, treatment, and care, and maternal and neonatal health services. 

- Daniel Kricheff