Indiana University School of Medicine’s 30th year of partnership in Kenya began in 2020 with new leadership at AMPATH, and the promise of new partnerships and new challenges.
Adrian Gardner, MD, MPH, became the new executive director of the AMPATH Consortium and director of the Indiana University Center for Global Health in January. He succeeded Bob Einterz, MD, one of the four IU physicians who founded the partnership with Moi University three decades ago.
We were poised to announce partnerships that would help us expand AMPATH beyond Kenya. We had begun a new pediatric oncology fellowship. Four first-year IU medical students prepared for a summer living and learning in Eldoret. And a Kenyan registrar began her clinical rotation in Indianapolis.
Suddenly, though, excitement and optimism were replaced with worry and quarantine as attention in Kenya and Indiana turned to the COVID-19 virus moving swiftly across the globe.
The fast-moving nature of the crisis makes it impossible to predict with any certainty what will transpire between the drafting and delivery of this update, but we do know that AMPATH’s work with Kenyan colleagues to build both infrastructure and human and system capacity has strengthened their defense against the global pandemic.
This foundation assisted Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and regional leaders in ramping up the response to COVID-19 while simultaneously working to limit in-person interactions through clinical visits, research projects and daily operations.
“Kenya and the task force established by Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) had the benefit of some time to prepare for the onslaught of COVID-19 and used it to create isolation units, train staff, assemble supplies and create protocols for screening and testing,” said Gardner. The Government of Kenya and Ministry of Health also acted quickly when the first positive case was confirmed to cancel schools, limit gatherings and ultimately discontinue international flights.
When the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 Global Health Advisory, most of AMPATH’s North American faculty and staff were required to return abruptly to the U.S. or Canada. “
While the circumstances must force us to be physically apart for the time being, our partners know that we are still supporting them from a distance throughout this crisis,” Gardner said. Many of these physicians will aid their home institutions in their COVID-19 clinical response while continuing to support AMPATH’s efforts in Kenya remotely until they can return.
Still, the pandemic presents an immense challenge for resource-limited countries such as Kenya. The most immediate needs are improved access to lab supplies, personal protective equipment, digital thermometers and infection control supplies. Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital has 21 intensive care unit (ICU) beds to serve the western half of Kenya. Increasing this number is a high priority.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of bolstering medical infrastructure and capacity for health care in countries around the world. The most vulnerable people in Kenya will feel the economic and societal impact for years to come. Kenya requires AMPATH’s partnership and support now and will need it more than ever when this threat has passed in order to continue to fortify its health care system to confront the next threat.
Your support of IU’s work through AMPATH has sustained it through three decades. At this challenging moment in our shared history, your help is even more crucial. Please stay safe and, if at all possible, home.