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GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

Medical volunteer trip ignites passion, perspective and partnership

On an overseas trip, American medical staff team up with Kenyan doctors in a specialized peer-to-peer program with patient care at its heart.

chg-medical-mobile-2019-09-09.jpg
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

Medical volunteer trip ignites passion, perspective and partnership

On an overseas trip, American medical staff team up with Kenyan doctors in a specialized peer-to-peer program with patient care at its heart.

BY ZEDDY KOSGEI
4min

At Baraka Hospital in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, Dr. Florentina Uwamahoro and physician’s assistant Ted Smith calculate a dosage for their 10-month-old patient. The pair just met a few minutes earlier, but have already fallen into synchrony to determine a cause for the baby’s sudden seizures. Uwamahoro does a few quick calculations and relays the results to Smith, who scribbles on the patient’s file.

Smith is from Waverly, Iowa, and he’s spending his summer vacation shadowing Baraka’s Uwamahoro to learn about local care. He’s in Kenya along with eight other medical practitioners from the U.S. as part of a ME to WE medical volunteer trip designed to help doctors from both countries practice with a new perspective.

Baby Boniface Kiprotich is the first patient of the day. His mother, Juliana Kiprotich, took a bus, then a motorbike, traveling a total of five hours to get to Baraka from a tourist camp near the Maasai Mara National Park, where she lives and works. Her son has had medical issues since birth. He suffered a brain injury after a difficult delivery at a different hospital, where doctors told her he would live with a permanent condition. A few weeks ago, Boniface was running a fever and would not eat, so she took him to another hospital closer to her home. He was prescribed medication and, though his fever broke, Boniface started to suffer seizures. Kiprotich heard about the visiting physicians at a local market and decided to bring her baby to Baraka.

Medial practitioner at Baraka Hospital in Kenya
Medial practitioner at Baraka Hospital in Kenya
Medical staff consult with one another sitting at desk at Baraka Hospital in Kenya
Medical staff consult with one another sitting at desk at Baraka Hospital in Kenya
Baraka Hospital staff in Kenya smiling to camera
Baraka Hospital staff in Kenya smiling to camera

After conferring, Smith and Uwamahoro determine that the previous prescription dosage was too high; a lower dose will stop the seizures. Kiprotich is relieved. She feared something more complicated.

The trip, sponsored by Washington-based non-profit CHG Medical’s Making a Difference Foundation, sent health care providers to the Maasai Mara on a week-long excursion for peer-to-peer learning. American medics were paired with Baraka staff so the teams could collaborate to diagnose and treat patients. Visiting doctors flexed their diagnostic skills with cases endemic to the region, and local staff discovered how treatment differs across borders.

For Smith, the trip presented a chance to treat rare cases and expand his knowledge. “We treated skin diseases caused by fungi that I had only ever read about in books and I have been a PA for 26 years,” he explains.

For Uwamahoro, working with someone from a different medical background allowed her to compare tactics.
“It was interesting to share our different treatments of tuberculosis cases. Although such cases are rare in the U.S., shared that they immediately quarantine patients with TB. Yet here, where we treat them sometimes, we often prescribe medication and send them home if their case isn’t critical. We follow up for the next two, four and eight months to make sure the medication is working.”

Kenyan and American medical staff introduce themselves at Baraka Hospital in Kenya
Kenyan and American medical staff introduce themselves at Baraka Hospital in Kenya

Over the course of five days, the medical teams see more than 400 patients, with cases ranging from malaria to pneumonia to arthritis. Baraka Hospital is always in high demand, but the draw of foreign doctors made this week especially hectic. In the weeks leading up to their arrival, hospital staff put up posters in local schools and churches and made announcements at busy markets to spread the word. Hundreds, curious about doctors from abroad, show up to get treatment.

One of the most sophisticated hospitals in the region, Baraka is uniquely positioned to host volunteer doctors and a large influx of patients. Built by WE Charity in 2010, it filled an immense need for medical care in the rural region, where hospitals are scarce and not easily accessible. What started as a health clinic with only outpatient services expanded to include a maternity ward, surgical unit and inpatient wing. The hospital now provides primary and secondary care to surrounding communities in the Maasai Mara.

Despite the facilities, visitors experience a bit of professional culture shock.

Regan Alford, a surgical physician assistant from Phoenix, Arizona, is far from her comfort zone. Alford is used to assisting with surgeries, but this week she’s paired with Peter Wachira, a clinical officer at Baraka who practices general medicine. On her first day, Alford gets a crash-course review of diagnostic procedure, listening and watching as Wachira attended to patients. But soon she jumps in, with patients trickling in fast, amazed at the wide range of complaints.

Medial practitioners inside the doctor's office at Baraka Hospital in Kenya
Medial practitioners inside the doctor's office at Baraka Hospital in Kenya
Volunteer medical trip in Kenya provides consultation
Volunteer medical trip in Kenya provides consultation

“Back home we have specialized doctors for almost everything, but here one person treats them all,” Alford says. By their second day of work together, the pair form a routine, with Wachira translating for Alford, who takes notes while they consult on treatment. For Wachira and the staff at the hospital, variety is the norm. Seeing diverse cases every day helps doctors identify a wide range of ailments and treatment options.

Specialized care in rural Kenya is rare, so doctors stay agile and adapt in order to serve patients. “Access to specialized doctors in this area is not easy. Specialized medical care isn’t close and is not always affordable,” Wachira says.

That’s why trips like these are so significant. Visiting and local physicians, as well as their patients, benefit from the differential diagnostics of a more diverse team. At Baraka, visitors leave their comfort zones and practice back-to-basics medicine while local doctors stay nimble, learning protocols and treatments from across borders. Here, everyone benefits.

Zeddy Kosgei author bio photo
Zeddy Kosgei author bio photo

Zeddy Kosgei is a multi-media content creator in Kenya with over three years’ experience as a broadcast journalist. She loves finding stories that matter and retelling them creatively and eloquently.

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