Imagine if you were about to wash your hands but the water didn’t come from a faucet, but rather a “Tippy Tappy.” Imagine if you were interrupted by cows breaking into the yard during your meeting instead of the usual slew of emails and phonecalls. Sounds surreal, right? Not for two Novartis Pharmaceuticals employees who experienced all of these things and much more this past summer, and they wouldn’t have it any other way!
For three weeks, two associates from Canada traveled to Kenya to make a big global impact by providing health education and services to villages in rural areas of the African country.
Tina Patafie, a sales representative, and Patricia Tiramani, a communications manager, spent part of their summer volunteering and supporting the Familia Nawiri program. The Familia Nawiri (Healthy Families) program is a Novartis Social Venture. Social ventures are designed to build local and sustainable solutions that address healthcare challenges for communities in the developing world by tackling the issues that impact access to healthcare, such as education, infrastructure and distribution. Novartis first developed the Healthy Families (Arogya Parivar) model in 2007 in India and has since expanded the model to Indonesia, Vietnam and Kenya. Familia Nawiri was launched in Kenya in 2012.
Because of their passion to give back, they were selected for a volunteer mission to Kenya during which they helped deliver much-needed healthcare services to rural areas of the African country. This opportunity was provided to them through the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada International Volunteer Program (NPC-IVP), a Novartis-sponsored social responsibility program that gives Canadian associates the opportunity to work with a Novartis-sponsored health initiative in the developing world.
After meeting everyone in the program, what immediately stood out to Tina and Patricia was the sense of community and the value of interdependence, and how Anthony Gitau, the country head of the Familia Nawiri program, has made it his personal mission to make Kenya a better place. It was inspiring for them to see the overall passion that everyone on the Familia Nawiri team has to fulfill their mission for better healthcare for Kenyan families.
One of the major ways Familia Nawiri brings health services to Kenyans in rural and hard to reach areas is through Health Camps that are set up on weekends in rural schools. “I think of the camps as a pop-up hospital,” said Patricia. “Familia Nawiri, through a contracted third party team, sets up a clinic while the school is empty on the weekend and provides vital clinical services, tests and preventative care, and dispenses much-needed medications. It is incredible what they can do during one day.”
People at the Health Camps see nurses for triage and clinical officers for consultation and then move to the laboratory for tests or to the pharmacy to get their medicine. There are also rooms for HIV testing and counseling, and cancer screenings (cervical, prostate and breast). The health care professionals also educate patients on how to conduct a self-breast examination.
Since the beginning of 2016, the Health Camps had already served close to 7,000 patients in Kenya by the middle of this year. By the end of 2016, Familia Nawiri aims to have hosted 90 Health Camps in Kenya. “Having medical tests done and access to reliable medications is a vital part of the service, particularly since there is a wide problem in Kenya of stock outs at the public facilities and unsafe medication on the open market,” said Tina.
“There was so much mud on the road to one of the Health Camps while we were there that they called in four-hoof drive, the clinic tools were delivered by bull and chariot! Despite the conditions, over 340 people made their way up the mud-slicken mountain to attend that day.” – Patricia
Since the Health Camps program began over four years ago, they have continued to grow. Over the years, local physicians, clinic staff and volunteers have learned a lot and made many improvements. One such improvement included adding pre-registration carried out by community health volunteers who move from household to household encouraging and mobilizing community members to attend the Health Camps. This helps the Camps remain efficient and effective. Currently, the team is working to find new ways to address common diseases, such blindness.
“The gratitude of the patients was obvious and heartfelt. ‘Kongoi, Asante sana’ (thank you very much) patients would say as they departed the Health Camps. It is touching to see how so many lives are improved through these initiatives.” - Tina
In addition to the health education received at the Health Camps, there are more informal gatherings called community meetings where the community’s leaders and elders welcome a community health facilitator of Familia Nawiri to their homes to discuss health care and education, such as healthy eating habits, hypertension, diabetes, rational use of drugs and other topics to help families and the communities at large.
Patricia and Tina found that community was a common thread throughout their time in Kenya. For the Health Camps to succeed they need people to attend and the only way they can get word around is through the support of the community. The Third Party and community Health Facilitators of Familia Nawiri assemble the Health Camps, but it is the Community Health Volunteers and members who attend health meetings in the community who help spread the word. The community members are tasked with taking the health education they receive at community meetings and passing it along to their community, and then someone passes it along to the next county. So on and so forth.
In this sense, the strong community literally keeps everyone’s family and friends healthy.
This picture below was taken after one of the community meetings where the women of the community hosted Mildred Kirotich, community health facilitator, Mourice Odera, social partnerships manager for Familia Nawiri, Tina and Patricia. At the end of the meeting, the women showed Tina and Patricia their traditional dances and gave them a beautiful parting gift: a lesso with the name of their organization called KEO which stands for Kipkelion Empowerment Organization. Strong women who make a difference in their communities – an afternoon they won’t soon forget.
While Tina and Patricia’s mission of helping to make a global impact on Kenya’s health care system was fulfilled, they realize there is still a lot of work left to do, which is why Novartis continues to foster programs like Familia Nawiri.
“And when you consider that we are reaching approximately 1% of the Kenyan population at the moment, you realize how much work remains to be done.” – Patricia