February 27, 2013

Annual 5K Run/Walkathon on Campus Benefits Efforts to Build Clinic in Kenya

In rural Kenya, one in 16 women die from complications during childbirth. Nearly 40 percent of children under the age of five are malnourished. Infant mortality is 10 times higher than in the United States, and outpatient and admission wards in health centers are overcrowded and understaffed.

These are only a few of the painful realities that inspired a group of Princeton University students to start a chapter of TropicalClinics for Rural Health, a charitable organization committed to providing health care to underserved women, children, and families in Kenya. One clinic has been built. To raise funds for a second, the students are preparing for their annual 5K run/walkathon to be held on the campus on Saturday, April 6. Students and member of the community are encouraged to participate.

The Princeton group is the founding chapter in TropicalClinics’ Chaptership Program, which hopes to inspire other interested students nationwide to start their own branches at high school, college, and professional school campuses. The organization was founded by Dr. Margaret Kilibwa, a native of Kenya and clinical assistant professor at the Women’s Health Institute of the UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“We’re trying to build more clinics to make health care more easily accessible for more people in Kenya,” says Sarah Lloyd, a junior at the University and one of about 25 students involved in the local chapter. “Our job is to raise money so they can start building a second clinic.”

As a student in the University’s Global Health Certificate program, Ms. Lloyd traveled to Ghana last summer to study health care abroad. The situation there is similar to that of Kenya, which she heard about from a friend who spent part of his summer there.

“Buildings and areas in which they have clinics and hospitals are not very sanitary or developed,” Ms. Lloyd says. “If you go to a clinic, you have to wait about three hours before seeing a doctor, which can be a very long time for people who are really sick. There aren’t enough clinics. Some people live at least five or six hours away. And in rainy season, it can be impossible to get to clinics.”

The area of Kakamega, Kenya has been particularly ravaged by HIV. According to TropicalClinics’s website, the organization’s annual medical camps have served more than 3,652 people, especially women, at Kakamega. Recently, an existing five-room clinic at Kakamega was renovated into a pharmacy and treatment center to provide interim services for clients. “From this service we expect to demonstrate the project’s soundness and effectiveness to other foundations and corporate funders, community development agencies, and private funding sources for future funding of the long-term program,” the website reads.

Giving the situation a human face, the website tells the story of Muhonja, who is pregnant. “Her best hope for a safe delivery is help from a traditional birth attendant,” it reads. “If Muhonja experienced complications during pregnancy and delivery she will have to be transported on a bicycle almost 10 miles to the nearest medical facility. Many pregnant women do not make it to the medical facility; they bleed to death.”

The Kakamega clinic, when finished, will be an 80-bed medical and education center that will serve up to 500 patients a day. It will be the first in the region to offer state-of-the-art diagnostic tools, therapeutic treatment, and community outreach programs. Among the supplies and equipment needed are a blood pressure monitor, HIV testing kits, microscopes, a mammogram machine, centrifuges, laundry and kitchen equipment, ambulances, and computers.

The 5K run on April 6 winds around and through the Princeton campus. University students pay $12 to participate, and others pay $25. Everyone gets a tee-shirt. For more information, contact Ms. Lloyd at slloyd@princeton.edu.