Moses Chemutai Keboi admits the first time he walked into Dandu Health Centre in Mandera county three years ago he considered quitting his job. The facility surrounded by majestic Dandu hills and serves between 80 and 100 patients a day, did not have neither drugs nor equipment. All the services were offered in one room and the erratic solar power could dissapear at the most critical time.
“I remember one day when I was delivering a baby the lights went off. I had to hold my mobile phone with my lips and continue with my work because there was no one to hold it for me,” Keboi, who was posted there as a clinical officer said.
After staying for a while and witnessing the plight of mothers such as 17-year-old Sahara Mahamoud, who gave birth to her son at 15 years, Keboi decided to soldier on. When I met Keboi he was in the consultation room at the clinic with Sadia Isaac, a 38-year-old, mother of eight who had been experiencing back pains.
As he takes her blood pressure and prepares to conduct a scan, Keboi, the clinical officer in charge of Dandu Community Centre, says just a month ago, the best he could have done is to do a physical abdominal examination, give her a few drugs and send her away with the gnawing fear that he would see her back in a worse state a few months later.
The clinic now renamed Dandu Community Life Centre last week became the second health facility in the country to open a Philips Community Life Centre after Kiambu. The stone-walled refurbished facility, surrounded by kraals and a few mud houses is expected to improve access to primary health care for over 40,000 people in the remote region. The facility is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment such as ultrasound machines and incubators.
This will give the community quality mother and child care and general health services.
It will also offer the community clean energy supply, employment opportunities and the potential to develop commercial activities and a social activity hub.
Patients with complications in the area used to travel over 150 kilometres to Ethiopia or 120 kilometres to the nearest health facility in Moyale to get quality care.
The centre is the third in Africa after the first one was opened in Kiambu in Nairobi and another one in Tadu village, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jasper Westerink, CEO of Philips Africa said: “The healthcare challenges in Mandera are hugely concerning; and they are a reflection of the issues and realities faced by millions of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Mandera Governor Ali Roba said his government inherited a health system that was on its deathbed and hoped the centre, alongside the others constructed by the county government, will assist in reducing the number of maternal deaths in the region and improve access to primary healthcare.
The project, a collaboration between Phillips, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Mandera county government, supports the drive for universal health coverage by 2030 as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goal Number 3.
Dr Ademola Olajide, UNFPA Country Representative to Kenya, said: “The inauguration of the Community Life Centre in Mandera is an important milestone in finding new ways for significantly advancing maternal and newborn health outcomes in the six counties in Kenya, which contribute close to 50 per cent of all maternal deaths in the country.”
What is unique about the Mandera CLC is that the community, including traditional birth attendants, a crucial aspect of maternal care in the far-flung region, are involved. Instead of helping mothers give birth at home, they are referring them to the centre.
As part of the programme community health workers such as Abdikadir Abdullahi and Abdinur Isaack have been provided with backpacks containing a pulse oximeter that measures a child’s blood oxygen levels, a heart rate monitor and a portable ear thermometer, a portable ultrasound and wind-up foetal doppler to check a baby’s heart rate.
They walk for almost seven kilometres a day to reach women and the sick in the area. “We are involved in training the health workers and equipping them. We have provided 10 out of the 40 health workers with the backpacks and we hope to increase the number soon,” said June Omollo, the project manager Community Life Centres.