Originally Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:06 am | Updated: 10:01 am, Fri Mar 28, 2014.
By Ashley Andyshak Hayes For the Gettysburg Times
Delegates from Kisumu Medical and Education Trust in Kenya are in the midst of a three-week trip to Gettysburg.
KMET has hosted students from Gettysburg College for the past two summers, and the three delegates visiting Gettysburg this month are hoping to strengthen this partnership to both raise students’ awareness of global health issues and to continue to improve the quality of life for residents in rural Kenya.
KMET was founded in 1996 to tackle Kenya’s high maternal and infant mortality rate, which was one of the highest in the world.
“We were holding the government accountable for the number of women and children that were dying,” said KMET founder Monica Oguttu. “We want all women to deliver under a skilled person.”
Eighty percent of Kenya’s population lives in rural areas, and the vast majority of women in rural villages do not have access to quality health care. Many women also suffer complications from abortions performed by unlicensed practitioners, since the procedure is heavily restricted in Kenya, Oguttu said.
Physicians are rare in rural areas, so KMET utilizes nurses, midwives, physician assistants, and volunteers to provide care at their Huduma Poa (“quality service “) franchise clinics. These clinics provide a full range of health care services, including a laboratory and pharmacy.
“It’s like a supermarket. We want this to be a one-stop shop,” Oguttu said.
KMET also offers a low-cost health insurance plan for rural communities. The plan costs the equivalent of $100 per year and covers up to six family members for outpatient and maternity care. Financing is provided in partnership with African and international organizations.
But KMET’s work goes far beyond medicine; the organization is working to address all aspects of life that affect health care quality and access. One of these is poverty.
“There is a linkage between poverty and poor health indicators,” said KMET programs manager Sam Owoko. When families have sufficient income to feed themselves, obtain stable shelter, and send their children to school, their health outcomes improve, he said.
KMET has developed several programs to help rural Kenyans earn income and become self-sufficient, including providing assistance with starting small businesses and obtaining affordable loans. KMET works intensively with local communities to help them realize how their own resources and abilities can allow them improve their health and quality of life.
“We’ve moved away from the approach of giving to communities,” Owoko said. “We find out what you have and how we can use that to address the issues.”
Promoting health, safety, and education for girls is another key aspect of KMET’s mission. Many girls in rural Kenya are orphaned or uneducated, and the teen pregnancy rate is very high, Oguttu said. KMET provides day care so that girls who are supporting children or younger siblings can attend school, and offers three career training programs that girls and women can complete in a year or less.
KMET also created a line of reusable feminine hygiene products so that girls can continue to come to school during their monthly cycles.
“This has really made a difference for girls, in attendance and in performance,” Oguttu said.
Gettysburg College students studying in Kenya have assisted with several successful projects, including obtaining a boat ambulance to service villages on Lake Victoria; building a water storage tank to keep drinking water clean and prevent disease; and developing small farming operations to allow residents to earn income.
“The students come with ideas that can really be sustainable, and we want to make that something that continues,” said Volunteer and Intern Coordinator Agnes Sewe.
During their three weeks in Gettysburg, the delegates have a full schedule, with planned visits to a variety of college classes including Amy Dailey’s global health and epidemiology course. Dailey, along with environmental studies professor Monica Ogra, and Kim Davidson, director of the college’s Center for Public Service, traveled to Kenya in 2013 to see KMET’s work firsthand.
“This unique partnership allows the students to apply the research methods they are learning in class while helping meet some of KMET’s needs,” Dailey said. “Students are able to learn about health issues and interventions from the KMET experts and our students are able to initiate research that will help promote KMET’s agenda.”
The KMET delegates are also visiting and working with campus organizations like Campus Kitchen and Painted Turtle Farm, and Gettysburg-area groups including Circles of Support, El Centro, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
While the environment is different, much of the work being done in Gettysburg is similar to what KMET is doing in Kenya to improve health and quality of life, Oguttu said.
Oguttu, Owoko, and Sewe will share more about KMET’s mission, services, and history during Healthy Adams County’s luncheon on Friday at 11 a.m. in Gettysburg Hospital’s Community Room A. The program is free and open to the public; reservation is required by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lunch is available for $5 and must be requested by Thursday.