SOURCE: ONE – An abc News initiative
This post was written by Ginny Wolfe, Communications Director of ONE.
The Proof is in Kenya: Pneumonia kills 800,000 people every year, most of them children. But a doctor in Kenya shows us why that’s changing,
By the time many patients get to the district hospital in Siaya, they are exhausted – and very ill. They often have to walk (or bike) three to six miles to get to the hospital, so it is a trek they are not likely to take until they are very ill. If it is a child who’s ill, the trek can become a last-minute sprint.
Dr. Vincent Kioi spends his days tirelessly fighting to help people get and stay healthy. It’s a battle he is determined to win.
“I have worked in this hospital for nearly two years now,” Dr. Kioi says. “I chose to work here as I was interested in participating in clinical research, which I believe will help impact the lives of thousands of people across the continent.”
At least a quarter of Dr. Kioi’s young patients come in suffering from the effects of pneumonia and another 20% from diarrhea, resulting mainly from rotavirus – two treatable diseases which, too often, cut young lives short.
The children’s ward in Siaya Hospital is quiet, but busy. Moms hold their sick infants and children, or gently rub their backs while they sleep, their little cheeks pressed down into a pillow, arms spread akimbo. Blue bed nets are tucked up into frames around each bed, ready to be pulled down when dusk and the ensuing night mean that malaria-carrying mosquitoes are likely to come out to feed – and infect. Nurses check from bed to bed and Doctor Kioi checks on Stacy, a four-month old baby girl with recurring pneumonia.
As Dr. Kioi treats her with oxygen and a broad spectrum antibiotics, he explains that the pneumococcal strain in the area has become resistant to penicillin, which is usually all that many of the medical providers in the area have available. Most of the children who are treated at this hospital, however, have access to a broader array of treatments and medical care in general.
With a Patient Support Center on the hospital grounds– thanks to an innovative partnership between the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), CDC, PATH, PEPFAR and others–some 4,000 infants and children are enrolled in various clinical trials and epidemiological studies here and receive free medical care and access to medical expertise and diagnostic tools. One of the most promising trials right now is for a malaria vaccine.
Providing access to medical care at next-to-no cost to the patient is important, as treatments would otherwise be widely out-of-reach. Hospital stays of five days to three weeks can add up to as much as 30 U.S. dollars – a sum that may seem small, but amounts to more than half of what many Kenyan families like baby Stacy’s live off of in a month.
Fortunately, Dr. Kioi now has two tough allies in his battle for healthy children: new vaccines for pneumococcal disease–one of two major causes of pneumonia that kills an estimated 800,000 annually–and rotavirus, a disease that is the most common cause of childhood diarrhea and the killer of more than 500,000 children in Africa and Asia each year. Had Stacy had access to a pneumonia vaccine earlier, she likely wouldn’t be in the hospital so much, restricted by the plastic tubes providing her with the oxygen she needs to breathe. If she were not chronically ill, her mother would be able to spend more time caring for her and her siblings – as well as find ways to support the family. Small investments, like vaccines, have trans-formative and long-term effects.
“The two new vaccines have the potential to reduce the rates of severe pneumonia and diarrheal illnesses in the community,” Kioi explains. “This would mean fewer patients being treated for these illnesses in the hospitals and less severe illnesses in those who do become symptomatic.”
Kenya introduced the new pneumococcal vaccine last month, vaccinating more than 1,000 children in a single day.American-supported organizations, like the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), have pledged to support both the pneumococcal vaccine and the rotavirus vaccine, making Kenya one of 44 developing nations to receive the vaccines. With the help of international donors, national governments, policymakers, and the larger global health communities, GAVI’s efforts could save nearly 4 million children’s lives by 2015.
In addition, American support and presence on the ground in Kenya helps to build solid goodwill and lasting relationships.
“Through their work, (Americans) have helped increase the strength of the pre-existing bonds between the two nations,” Kioi says. “Helping to reduce the burden of disease through preventive measures gives a community the opportunity to concentrate on taking care of food security and infrastructure improvement, thus aiding in lifting the entire community above the poverty line.”
That’s something Dr. Kioi has wanted for his community ever since he was a child. At just seven years old, he dreamt of becoming the doctor he is now. He says the new vaccines might just help today’s children achieve their dreams as well. Living Proof of dollars well spent.