Battling disease in Kenya, Malawi, Burundi and South Sudan
When working in Malawi, I used to say the country was two generations behind Kenya medically: fewer hospitals, doctors, nurses, oxygen tanks, labs. Fewer everything.
Visiting South Sudan, my Kenyan colleague surveyed the lack of development and said, “This is Kenya in the 1940s.”
Recently, an article in the magazine Old Africa featured a history of a Catholic mission hospital in Meru, Kenya. A doctor working there in 1969 used an infant warmer heated by a simple 40-watt bulb.
Last month our organization procured two sophisticated and expensive incubators for the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. The devices allow automatically calibrated control of the ambient temperature and possess other advanced features. They are the machines we would want if our child was born prematurely. Kijabe is a referral and training center for Kenya and beyond.
We also support a neonatal ICU in northern Tanzania, another mission hospital referral center which has similar equipment.
Our partners in Burundi and Malawi use homemade incubators very similar to the circa 1969 Kenyan version. Kibuye Hospital in Burundi employs fish tank components to regulate the temperature. Last year we helped to fund a solar system at the hospital, which now has continuous power. Previously, lack of power meant interruptions in warming. During their evaluation visit the solar engineers saw a child die as a result.
Both Kibuye in Burundi and Nkhoma Hospital in Malawi designed boxes warmed by anywhere from one to four simple lightbulbs. Baby is cold with one bulb? Turn on another one. Too warm? Turn one off. Each bulb has a typical switch.
Burundi and Malawi, the two poorest countries in the world, possess similar neonatal mortality rates as Kenya and Tanzania. In all the countries, a little more than 2% of children die in the first month of life.
So are the former countries really 50 years behind Kenya?
The mortality rate in the Tanzanian neonatal ICU is less than half the average value for the four countries — and these are the absolute sickest and most premature children in the region. The…