Sixty-year-old Martha Anyango staggered, groaned and collapsed as her husband struggled to put her on a bicycle. Overwhelmed by a vicious malaria attack, she has been bedridden for three days without medication.
They have been trekking for five Kilometers to the nearest hospital when the disease, worsened by a shearing heat, took its toll.
She was unconscious, when they finally reached Kadongo Health center. Anyango’s case epitomes the suffering of residents of Kajimbo village in Kabondo, Rachuonyo district Kenya where lack of health facilities has led to many deaths.
But while the residents trek kilometers in search of health, a multi-million health facility that could have changed the lives of the locals is lying abandoned in the vicinity.
The health center, now being consumed by bush due to neglect is the talk of the district.
As you approach a little known village of Kajimbo, the immaculate two year old health center squats in this far flung region.
The intention to put up the health center through donor funds was noble: To provide primary health care and to concentrate their efforts on broad-scale campaigns of preventative measures and public health, for they realized that only in that way will they ever make any significant or lasting inroad on the overall health of the villagers.
Nyandira fellowship Community Health Centre was started in 1997. It was a planned initiative that had taken many years to materialize. With the Fellowship of Christian Church offering sponsorship, led by Pastor Nashon Ondiek, the project got its roots.
Hope ran high as the health centre was opened in 1999 in a remote area where traditional healers are often consulted for health problems before modern methods are tried. Children sang, major celebration took place lasting well into the night and women too were relieved of long distances they used to make in the past.
“Before the health post I used to walk long distances to reach Ramula health centre,” says Philister Ondiek. “Now people are brought here, and it’s really much better”.
The nearest health centers are 11 kms away, and women in this region were in the past forced to walk long distances to reach such a service. This led to high mortality rate. Children died before their first birthday, and for every child, who celebrated a first birthday, almost one in four died before his or her fifth birthday. They also die to causes that are preventable through immunization.
But with the posting of an experienced nurse, such cases decline. “The nurse had a great energy and enthusiasm for her particular field and often express new ideas to expand her help to the villagers. The nurse plus the helpers are certainly a dedicated lot. It’s impressive to watch them at work,” said Richard Khepas who has been managing the health centre since its establishment.
Today’s medicine is very excellence and exclusiveness, with increasingly high standards, elaborate technology and exhaustive training, have pushed cost and availability far beyond the reach of the common people, yet they are giving their services at an affordable price.
“Many patients have made long journeys, often at great sacrifice, because they are too poor to get the medical help they need elsewhere. They arrive with their hopes high and their pockets empty. In theory, one can turn such persons away. Not in fact,” said Khepas.
Each day they see an average of 50-60 out patients from the local population of over 15,000 people, all very poor and simple village folk, many of them babies and small children, mothers and elderly people.
Malaria and typhoid are endemic. Tuberculosis, cholera and wounds are common as well as skin diseases. The lack of access to information may also mean that HIV/AIDS is a significant future threat.
But even though these diseases are still a thorn in the flesh despite the opening up of a health centre, the villagers prefer it to a traditional healer.
“In the past many people relied only on traditional remedies for ailments and would often just die at home. Clinical advice is sought when the situation has already progressed to a serious or mortal stage,” said a 70 year old Daniel Akina Sure.
Andrew Omollo Koko, Kakang’utu’s village assistant chief, echoes the sentiment of his neighbors. “We’re happy to have the health centre. In the past, we’ve had many cases of cholera and malaria in the village. The centre has helped us deal with this.”
Hilly, stony and scanty bushes distributed across the village characterize the vegetation in this area. This led to reduction in food production hence a threat to children’s nutrition.
The most common health problems experienced by villagers are infections; digestive disorders; malnutrition and serious protein; vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The maternal mortality rate in this area is high. Women are often susceptible to anemia as a result of frequent pregnancies, a heavy workload and poor nutrition. Most women deliver at home, attended by untrained Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), therefore increasing the incidence of complications and maternal mortality.
But with the access to the health centre, Mr. Richard Khepas said all of these may be protected by better hygiene and an improved diet. The problem is that most villagers are unaware of why they get sick. “The health officials from the district should be visiting the villagers here for a series of one hour talk to teach them methods of reducing illness,” he said.
Attempts to register the health centre have been fruitless. The District Health Officials have graded it at 70%. The villagers have complained bitterly but their pleas have fell on deaf ears. Every time they contacted them at the district level, they are being asked to pay Kshs.5, 000 for fueling so that they can come and give a thorough inspection. In total, they have used nearly Kshs. 15,000 but still their problem is intact.
Their happiness was short lived when their only nurse Ms. Pamela Auma succumbed to death early last year. The centre has ever remained closed. Things are back to normal in this village. “I have tried with much effort to get another nurse posted here but in vain,” poses Khepas.
The problems are back to normal and any patient in this village or surrounding villages had to make the trip to Ramula Health Centre either on foot or a matatu. The cost however, of a return journey in a matatu is Kshs.100, which is a great deal of money to these people.
Jeniffer Adhiambo, on her way to Ramula health centre 11 km away said the problem is now enormous and appealed to the new government to intervene and register the health centre for the benefit of the villagers. She said the services at Ramula are superb but the distance is discouraging.
“A part from the treatment of a cute illness and the provision of essential drugs, the health centre is deeply involved in maternal and child health care, family planning and child vaccination as well as health education, matters of sanitation, clean water supply and instructing mothers in oral re-hydration therapy to counter one of the great child killers in Africa,” she said.
Nobody knows why its registration is taking ages while the centre is well equipped. The building cost nearly Kshs.1 million. It has ten partitions designed for different purposes. Five beds are lying there idle fixed with mattresses. Wiring is complete but no source of power yet. Four latrines, two bathing rooms are fully furnished and a two bedroom house for the nursing staff.
Another problem that has been plaguing the area is water. The villagers have not had the commodity for nearly two years. This means nothing but more poverty. Normally, Kajimbo’s sole water supply comes from a mountain stream miles away. Drinking water is usually not boiled, and although water sources usually appear to be clean, water-borne diseases are prevalent. There are no wells. There are no lakes, no reservoirs, no catchments basins, no “run-off,” no enough water storage tanks.
River Sondu Miriu being the only permanent river in the vicinity though miles away is their only hope during dry seasons. Those who manage to transport it by donkeys sell it at exorbitant prices. Since water is life, you have no option. ” Better drink than eat,” said Rose Atieno.
The sound sleep will only come to the villagers that day the government will bring up their health centre to its feet.
Joseph Ojwang is a free-lance journalist. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Kenya, Africa.