One Key Lesson from my 10 years of Community Health work in rural Kenya I learnt many lessons from the 10 years I served as the CEO of Rianya Maisha Community Network, a nonprofit organization implementing community health programmes in rural Kenya. But only lesson, I regard as the most important.
The greatest challenge to provision of quality healthcare for rural communities in Kenya is lack of information. Nothing stand in the way of healthcare and health empowerment more than the huge gap in access to health information. Knowledge is the enemy of disease. Health empowerment begins with access to information. Information about availability of medical care in the first place. The cancer menace is particularly becoming big because of ignorance and cultural myths. Culturally, most people believe that if a tumor or lump is cancerous, then it should not be touched, lest the cancer should spread to other body tissues. This then leads to people presenting themselves for medical care late, sometimes in stage 4 of cancer. Therefore, if these people had access to health information, they could make informed choices.
At the same time, medical professionals in in rural Kenya do not have access to the knowledge and information they need to diagnose and treat patients in the most effective way. There is little opportunity of any for continuing professional development, which further affects patient care. Yet relevant and up-to-date information is essential for effective healthcare delivery, and improving treatment outcomes. Many of the medical professionals in rural Kenya have come to rely on observation, advice from colleagues and building experience empirically through their own treatment successes and failures.
The most affected cadre of medical professionals by the “information poverty”, are the primary care providers, including community health workers, attached to grassroots health centres. This disparity is exacerbated by unequal distribution of Internet connectivity and a clear unavailability of health information resource centres in rural areas. From my 10-years’ experience, we may not achieve any meaningful progress with the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal three, which is ‘good health and well-being’, unless we address the health information gaps, both for medical professionals and the communities in rural areas.
One of the critical ways to narrow this gap is improving healthcare delivery through IT. Information technology infrastructure such as computers and Internet access can provide availability of information and a suitable foundation for research and professional growth for medics. This intervention can focus on the effective development and use of software and systems which directly support the work of Community and Public Health.
Of late, I have been thinking about the contribution I can make to provide a sustainable solution to the health information gap in rural Kenya. I came up with the idea of establishing a Community Health Information Centre. This will be a centre where people in rural areas can access health resources for sustainable health empowerment. Members of the public will register or subscribe to be members of the Community Health Information Centre to access the resources. From books, to magazines, to journals, to e-books, to videos, to DVDs, to CD-ROMs, to educational kits, and Ministry of Health policy documents. This will indeed be a health library.
The centre will also conduct training and community health education outreaches to reach out with information to those who may not for one reason or another visit the centre, or those who may be illiterate. I envision the trainings to be structured, but tailor-made. For example, the educational services activities will include training community members as medical secretaries, medical librarians, nursing aides, and community health workers; operating a college preparatory program and a public health sanitarian program; food and nutrition; water and sanitation; sex education; and life skills training. Other trainings will target special demographic groups such as pregnant mothers, teenagers, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, TB patients, cancer survivors, commercial sex workers, and others.
Health Promotion will be another key component of the Community Healthy Information Centre. The communities will be empowered to take control over many of the factors that affect their health. This initiative will seek to increase the community awareness of what health means to them, community understanding of how the surroundings affect their health, and the community ability to access and make use information to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Recently, I was so glad to connect with Gareth Presch who is the founder of World Health Innovation Summit, which is a social interest company based in the UK, also seeking to improve healthcare through access to information. World Health Innovation Summit share knowledge to improve healthcare and empower people. For both of us, the community is the most important stakeholder.
I requested Gareth to share my idea with their extensive networks, including the Royal College of Midwives, the General Medical Council, and many more, because I’m looking for partners to make this idea successful. I’m looking for advisors, for mentors, for funders, for collaborators; to help this idea breakthrough.
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