Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Nairobi to visit with some of Kenya’s health leaders and to learn more about the health challenges facing this growing country.
The visit was a tutorial on what is often described as the "hub" of Central and East Africa. Kenya -- with its borders on Lake Victoria, Uganda and South Sudan on the west, Tanzania to the south, the Indian Ocean and Somalia on the east, and Ethiopia to the north -- has emerged from the days of its "colonial masters," the U.K., as a busy country of 40 million people. Its capital and largest city, Nairobi, is home to four million residents and has the only national park in the world within city limits.
There I met Dr. Andrew Suleh, the President of the Kenyan Medical Society. He well represents the best of the country's 7000 physicians (80% of whom work within three kilometers of the center of Nairobi). Education and training are very important to him. Dr. Suleh has devoted his life to Kenyans with HIV/AIDS at the 200-bed Mbagathi District Hospital and its nearby clinic which cares for patients with infectious diseases, principally those with complications of HIV/AIDS. I met one of his patients, a vigorous man in his 40s, who has been complication-free for nearly ten years.
In addition to Dr. Suleh, I also meet other strong voices in health care in Kenya.
- Scott Gration, the relatively-new U.S. Ambassador to Kenya. Ambassador Gration has a goal of reducing maternal mortality in Kenya by 50% within a year.
- Mark Bor, the Permanent Secretary for Public Health, has made clean water his highest priority for better health. He is advocating for solar-powered wells for 2,700 dispensaries and 700 health centers.
- Mary Ngari, the Permanent Secretary for Medical Services, is dedicated to improving the physician shortage in Kenya and addressing the increasing prevalence of NCDs (non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer in the country.
- Lynn Adrian, USAID's Director of the Office of Health and Population for Kenya whose real-world experience in Haiti and Indonesia (following the 2004 Tsunami) will impact the significant health-related goals in Kenya.
While the enormity of the health needs, beyond HIV/AIDs, is clearly evident in Kenya, the voices of Kenya's health leaders are not those of discouragement, but rather pragmatism. Next year, implementation of the country's new Constitution will usher in what is described as "devolution" -- a shift from centralized to decentralized government. The health ministry will no longer be divided (Public Health and Medical Services), as it becomes one Ministry of Health. Health-related monies will go directly to the counties, which will allow local decision-making to meet local needs.
As a result, many Kenyans will be the beneficiaries, now and in the years ahead.
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