By Jane Okoth
There is something exciting about the Moi District Hospital, and it is not just the jovial laboratory employees who are always there to lend a helping hand. It is actually the medical laboratory itself! The clean, air-conditioned room filled with latest generation machines whirring away producing their diagnostic results is amazing.
Situated in Voi town, approximately 30km from Wildlife Work’s Rukinga Headquarters, the government referral hospital is now home to a state of the art medical and pathology laboratory. The refurbished laboratory is one of Wildlife Works largest community service projects, an investment of much time and approximately Ksh16,750,000, or about $162,000 USD.
Understandably, setting up the lab with the very latest medical technology and equipment did not just happen overnight. Betty Cherono, the Deputy Head in charge of the laboratory, recounts the start of the transformation some five years ago…….” the situation back then was very bad. It was a nightmare for patients to get proper medical treatment because of the absence of laboratory diagnostic services,” she says.
In 2012 Dr James Eggers, who has worked for Wildlife Works since 2010 as a Special Projects Coordinator, visited the hospital. He was struck by the condition and lack of meaningful capability of the lab. Patients were frequently turned away because there was no way to determine illnesses and maladies that were often easy to treat, once diagnosed. “During that time, patients were either sent to Mombasa or Nairobi for testing, a long and expensive trip that sometimes cost patients their lives,” Betty explained further. “So Dr Eggers set about on a long process to learn about the healthcare concerns and needs of the facilities in this region.” Healthcare workers at all levels were asked to express their opinions and ideas about what changes were needed most and what the priorities should be. As someone who had practiced ophthalmology medicine many years in the United States, Dr Eggers was able to determine consensus: it was the medical laboratory that was the weakest link in the healthcare delivery system.
Discussions were had and plans were made. Wildlife Works already had, as part of it’s business model, a policy of community reinvestment; this one would just be more complex than most——and ultimately involve many more community members. As the laboratory refurbishment idea was embraced, a chance meeting brought Wildlife Works together with Lancet Kenya Pathology Labs, a leading laboratory service operating across Africa. It was agreed that Lancet would provide both initial technical setup advice and then ongoing business consultation to assure both quality and financial success.
In February 2014 the Moi District Hospital laboratory reopened for business in it’s new form, filled with the latest state of the art equipment and with the enlarged staff having been trained on how to use both the machines and the computerized laboratory information systems. Each area of the laboratory is filled with quite specific, dedicated devices, which permits both accurate and reliable diagnosis and an operating efficiency that allows management of a very large volume of work for a laboratory at this level. After some three years of improving performance and work volume by the laboratory, in early 2017.
Wildlife Works transferred ownership of all the new equipment to the Moi District Hospital, an administrative charge of the Taita Taveta County Government. This concluded Wildlife Works role in the original three-way agreement between Wildlife Works, Lancet of Kenya, and Taita Taveta County Government. Lancet of Kenya and the County Government will continue to operate the lab in the manner of a public private partnership, assuring that the hospital lab would never again be the same as it was before 2014.
There are now many stories related to varied patient experiences with the lab. One is that of Jeremiah Mwatate, a Wildlife Works workshop employee. He describes having passed out while working, then being referred to the hospital immediately. “I was promptly serviced at the lab, with many blood tests. The results of some of the tests were given within 30 minutes”, he explained. He goes on to tell of being rapidly and successfully treated for his diagnoses of both malaria and anemia.
While Jeremiah’s experience is likely a typical example of that of patients in the Taita-Taveta region, there also is a definite sense of greater well-being of persons throughout the region, persons who knew the frustrations and limitations of the old lab system. The diagnostic range and speed of the new equipment provides an assurance that just wasn’t there before. Betty herself describes it well, “ We are doing really well. The great majority of tests are done right here , which helps get the diagnosis quicker, which of course means quicker treatment is available. Sometimes this does make enough difference to save lives.” “We provide the services to as many as 150 patients a day, mostly outpatients”, she adds.
Wildlife Works is pleased to have had this opportunity to improve the lives of the people living in the region. We would also like to acknowledge the roles of Lancet Kenya and the Taita Taveta County Government, and thank them for being our supportive partners in this satisfying journey. Finally, Wildlife Works is hopeful this work may provide a model for further collaboration between for-profit and government entities to take on and accomplish other worthy and necessary works.