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Rotary project helps Kenyan mothers, babies

August 2, 2018

Newborns and their mothers in Kenya’s poorest county will have a better chance at survival, thanks to a project sponsored by the North Platte Noon Rotary Club.

The leader of a medical team that traveled to Kenya recently as part of a $136,000 global grant from the Rotary Foundation updated Noon Rotary members Wednesday. Dr. Pam Donohue is an associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of clinical research for Johns Hopkins’ Division of Neonatology.

The grant is providing medical equipment and training to reduce the high infant and maternal mortality rates in Kakamega County in western Kenya. Kakamega County has 2 million people but only 10 doctors and 55 nurses per 100,000 population, Donohue said.

She showed photos of the Kakamega County Hospital, a complex of older buildings connected by walkways. It is on the edge of a rain forest, and ditches full of water run alongside the buildings.

Infectious disease is a problem because of the standing water and crowded hospital wards, she said.

“You come in with a broken tibia; you leave with malaria,” a hospital matron told her.

Donohue listed improvements made to the Kakamega County Hospital as a result of the Rotary grant, including:

» A new roof for the maternity ward and other repairs.

» A new water filtration plant and a water tap for the maternity ward. (Most parts of the hospital do not have access to water, she said.)

» New medical equipment, including four incubators for the maternity ward. In addition to equipment purchased by the grant, Johns Hopkins donated medical equipment that the team carried with them.

» Twenty hospital beds for adult patients.

In the hospital wards, Donohue said, patients must share beds. When the medical team arrived, the adult male orthopedic ward had 24 beds and 40 patients. Donohue said she saw family members lying on the floors and under beds; they stay in the wards to care for their hospitalized relatives. The ward was staffed by one matron.

Newborn babies sleep in cribs that essentially are cardboard boxes, Donohue said.

The maternity ward’s ceiling was crumbling, and the roof leaked. Both were replaced with financial assistance from the government.

A baby was born during the dedication of the maternity ward, she said.

One side effect of the grant, Donohue said, was that the county governor got his first extended look at the hospital after a year and a half in office.

“We got huge local political will behind us because of this grant,” she said.

The team consisted of four ob/gyn and neonatal educators from Johns Hopkins, a professor from the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Kearney College of Nursing and Rotarian Gilbert Hinga of Kearney.

Team members taught about 40 local medical workers skills they can teach others. For instance, the team brought infant mannequins to teach neonatal resuscitation.

“Part of the sustainability of this grant was to give them these things so they could teach the next group and the next group,” she said.

The team also provided training for community health workers, which Donohue described as “training the trainers.” She said 5,000 volunteers do all the after-hospital care for new mothers and infants, who go home from the hospital 24 hours after birth. Each volunteer sees 100 families a month, traveling on foot, she said.

“Talk about being devoted to your neighbor,” she said. “That’s how Kenya works.”

The next phase of the grant project will be in September, when a group of Kenyans will go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for training.

Efforts to secure the grant began in 2016. The Noon Rotary Club is the primary sponsor, with partners including North Platte’s Sunrise Rotary, other Rotary clubs and districts and the Kakamega Rotary Club.

Dr. Kim Baxter, a North Platte optometrist, led the local effort to get the grant after seeing conditions in Kenya during eye-care mission trips. He contacted Donohue, who is the sister of Dr. Lee Kimzey of North Platte.

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