RNs: Volunteer for a Medical Mission to Kenya in December Organized by a UNAC/UHCP Member

July 2011

Medical Missions Kenya and Hunger Relief Organization (MMK) will be taking a group of volunteer nurses and doctors on a medical mission trip to Kenya December 1-15, 2011. Medical Missions Kenya and Hunger Relief, a registered nonprofit organization, is founded on the belief that knowledge of basic health facts and access to medical relief and care should be shared by people of all nations, regions, and classes regardless of their social-economic status. The organization will target remote rural villages to provide medical relief to locals, often poverty-stricken individuals who have been excluded from healthcare systems worldwide. The volunteer group of nurses and doctors will provide diagnosis and treatment; establish partnerships and training with local community health care workers; conduct community medical and wellness training; and foster principles of preventative health care and healthy lifestyle living thus improving their quality of life.

Despite the tremendous progress that has been made in global health over the past two decades, there are places in Kenya where health care services are non-existent or not accessible. The Medical Mission trips to Kenya will highlight health initiatives, which have been determined through analysis of ways to drive practical changes in health systems in these remote areas. Our organization is dedicated to promoting health awareness by performing medical screenings for chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, teaching modifiable lifestyle changes, teaching women how to perform self breast exams, making referrals, and enhancing the skills of community health care workers. We will be partnering with Kenyan underserved communities where basic health care services simply do not exist or are not accessible to those most in need.

The prevalence of diabetes in Kenya is approximately 10% in the adult population compared with 6% of individuals with HIV/AIDS. Despite these large numbers, there has been very little support for diabetes self-management skills from the government or even the non-governmental community. The majority of patients with diabetes and hypertension are often unaware of their conditions and are diagnosed during the later stages of the disease when other life-threatening complications have already set-in. Since these diseases have long been considered lifestyle diseases associated with the rich, medical services in Kenya to manage them are too expensive and remain out of reach for the poor. Drugs to manage diabetes or hypertension are expensive making it difficult for the poor in villages to manage their health conditions. While some of these conditions can be managed through lifestyle changes and education, there are no community programs in place that are structured to educate the public about these diseases and instruct the public on the best ways to manage their symptoms.

Since the days of Florence Nightingale and long before the World Health Organization (WHO) outlined a mandate, nurses have provided health awareness education for health promotion and disease prevention. Health promotion involves the application of certain strategies, which have been proven to reduce the spread of diseases (evidence-based), as well as the provision of information on ways to maintain and manage diseases for those who are already infected in order to avoid severe complications. Nurses use these strategies in their everyday lives, not only in the hospital setting, but also on their immediate families, friends, and the community at large. There is no doubt that nurse expertise will not only greatly change the lives of underserved villagers, but also save lives in the process. (To learn more about how nurses and doctors can help, please see the FAQs.

When I migrated to the United States from Kenya 12 years ago, I had no idea that the health system in Kenya was lacking. The first time I had a routine pre-employment physical, I was shocked when the doctor questioned me about my high blood pressure. Despite many encounters with doctors in Kenya for common ailments, no one ever checked my blood pressure. I had no idea what high blood pressure was let alone the fact that mine was high. The doctor was convinced it was hereditary, but I felt positive that neither of my parents were hypertensive. I called my family and insisted they see a doctor and request to have their blood pressures checked (checking blood pressure or any vital signs is not done routinely at the hospitals there). My doctor was right. My father’s blood pressure was consistently above 200. I realized then how little I knew about health and how inadequate the Kenyan health system was. It was then that I decided to go to nursing school. I knew I wanted to make a difference.

On my next trip to Kenya, I brought a small home glucometer and an electronic blood pressure machine with me. The morning after Christmas day, I gathered everyone before they ate breakfast to check their glucose levels and take their blood pressure. It was during this trip that I discovered my older brother was a diabetic and had no idea. I referred him to a doctor for follow-up care, and since then, he has been managing his diabetes. Word spread in the village quickly, and by the next day, there were about twenty people in my parents’ compound waiting for me to wake up. They too wanted their blood pressures and glucose levels checked. My mother even told some of her colleagues from the local church, and they too started arriving. Each time I thought I was done, someone else would stop by. I screened everyone I could until I ran out of glucose strips. This experience was truly an eye-opener. I discovered that more women than men were hypertensive, though to be fair, more women showed up. I referred all of those I diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes to the local hospital. I even taught them how to modify their lifestyles with diet changes and exercise. One of my neighbors who was hypertensive has since died and I always wonder whether she ever followed up with a doctor.

Now, each time I return home for a visit, my neighbors in the village wait patiently for their screening. Though I am grateful to be of assistance, I have realized it is not very helpful to diagnose someone and then send them on their merry way without any medications to take before they are able to see a doctor. I have since resolved that the next time I go home, I will bring some basic medications with me, and I will take a group of people with me to aid in diagnosis. That is how MMK was born. I am very excited about what this organization can achieve, the lives of people for whom we can make a difference, and the social changes we can implement as nurses.

MMK’s mission is to partner with Kenyan underserved communities in dire need of basic needs, to combat hunger, improve health and promote education, one village at a time. Our main goal at this time is to organize medical trips to Kenya once a year and mobilize nurses and doctors to volunteer their time and skills to serve these vulnerable communities. The trip costs $2500, which includes airfare, visas, ground transportation, and hotel accommodations among other necessities – and the guarantee that this experience will change your life! Medical missions last 10-15 days, and an optional safari experience is also available. If you are not in the health services field but would still love to go, kindly contact us. There are other volunteer assignments available in Kenya. To volunteer, download the application, complete, and send the completed application to volunteer@medicalmissionskenya.com.

Even if you are unable to volunteer your time for a medical mission, there are many ways to help. As we prepare for our first medical mission trip to Kenya in December, we kindly ask for your financial assistance in obtaining much-needed medical equipment and supplies, such as diabetic glucometers, blood pressure monitors, and medications. During this trip, we will also be visiting orphanages in the slums and providing them with basic necessities. We request that you help us in any way you can to enable us to fulfill this noble work of God. Your contribution, however small, is appreciated and will never go in vain. Click here to make a donation. For more information about the upcoming medical mission and our organization, please feel free to visit http://medicalmissionskenya.com/.

Millicent Manyore, a registered nurse for over seven years, currently works in the PCU at Kaiser West LA, where she makes a difference everyday. In May 2011, Millicent founded Medical Missions Kenya and Hunger Relief, an organization she believes will open health care access to Kenyan communities with the greatest need. To learn more about MMK, visit medicalmissionskenya.com.