By: Diane Choi
After numerous hours on planes and at least 10 different security checks involving me pulling out my otoscope and demonstrating its function to the security officers, I have arrived back in the United States. It’s crazy to think about how quickly time has flown by, and how 8 weeks in Kenya passed with a blink of an eye. When I wake up in the morning, I can still imagine myself walking past 30 cows and goats on my way to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital or digging through my suitcase to make sure that I have my raincoat and umbrella in case we get what I like to call, “sideways rain” (which always seemed to come pouring down at exactly 4PM). It does rain down in Africa.
Since my last blog post, I have taken the medal for being in the most ‘car breakdowns’ in a 2-day period of time. From being stuck in a car in a small town in Kenya for 7 hours as we waited for the radiator to be fixed in the nearest town, 78km away to watching a completely different car’s engine expel steam and smoke, unable to carry us further on our weekend journey, I’ve certainly learned that sometimes patience and a small dose of optimism are key to staying sane when traveling in sub-Saharan Africa. After all, it can always be worse!
As Slemenda Scholars this summer (or otherwise known as Salamanders by many Kenyans), we were able to explore so many facets of AMPATH and gain an understanding of how AMPATH’s mission of “Start with care. Then do more.” is put into action. One direct application of this mission that I was able to see in action is the development of both the Trauma Registry and the Burn Registry. This project involves many individuals from different institutions but I was able to interact with Dr. Kyle Carpenter, the Global Surgery Fellow and IU Surgery resident who is currently in Eldoret working on various projects, including this one for the next year.
The aim of these registries is to streamline Trauma care/Burn care in western Kenya. For example in the case of the Trauma registry, the method in which the trauma is acquired, the location in which the person was when they received the trauma and the hospital or clinic in which the patient first presented in are just some of the many data points being collected. By understanding the pattern of trauma care, the prevalence in some activities in causing traumas (such as motorcycle injuries), and the overall outcomes of the patients, trauma care can start to be streamlined to serve patients more effectively. Instead of treating traumas in the hospital after they have occurred, the Trauma Registry will hopefully make it so that care can be given in a timely fashion to decrease bad outcomes or perhaps make it so that interventions can be put into place to decrease the prevalence of certain traumas. Sure, care can and is given at the hospital but asking “what more can we do?” has led care in AMPATH to continue to expand and reach different populations within western Kenya.
Being a Slemenda Scholar this summer has allowed me to see the Advanced Trauma Life Support course be successfully completed after three long days of training provided by instructors from the IU Department of Surgery, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) and from Nairobi. Watching the students who all work in various capacities within MTRH improve in their skills each time they encountered a new moulage patient showed me how important practice is for improving preparedness. And also how AMPATH as a whole is building capacity and sustainability through training Kenyan health professionals. It is hoped that through this course and future courses, the students will then become the instructors and as instructors they will reach more students, thereby improving trauma care within western Kenya and beyond. It is truly exciting to see the beginning stages of this because care will only continue to improve from this point forward.
Although I could sit and write in great length about this summer, upon reflection, I feel that a good way to summarize this experience is to be grateful to have had the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds and engage in experiences that ultimately have made me more informed about how crucial it is to support global health efforts such as AMPATH.
To see how the health and quality of living can be improved from within the hospital to the communities within villages is powerful and a testament to why we should all be interested and strive to become involved in global health. Perhaps we can wait until someone so deeply passionate about global health comes along to put in the work and energy needed to advance initiatives, but think about how much further we can get if we all work together? Sure, it seems like health issues in sub-Saharan Africa are irrelevant to someone living in Middle America but we must remember that we are all interconnected. Not only do diseases spread and people travel but shouldn’t we also strive to decrease the burden of disease and promote the achievement of each and every person’s potential? Our society as a whole can most certainly benefit from efforts that improve the quality of life of all individuals. As we all move through our careers and our lives, encounter new problems and collaborate on solutions, I challenge everyone to ask, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”