Our First Day in Kenya: Harsh Realities, Solid Improvements


Today was a day filled with many hard truths that we had to face along with endless possibilities and improvements that are already happening in Kenya.

Our day started with a quick 30 minute flight from Nairobi to Kisumu, a sleepy town on the shores of Lake Victoria. We went to Kisumu to visit the KEMRI/CDC Research and Public Health Collaboration home-based HIV testing and counseling. My site partner Cooper Munroe, co-founder of The Motherhood, and I were invited to visit the home of a couple who was getting retested for HIV. We were able to see and learn everything about home-based HIV testing from the counselor walking through the procedure to pricking their fingers to draw blood to also offering counseling for care and treatment.

Using the rapid test model we were able to see right away along with the couple what their HIV status was even though they had been tested previously. For me, the results were shocking and I had to recalibrate to get my bearings. The husband was negative and the wife and mother of five was positive. In that moment when the counselor turned their strips around to show us the results the entire dynamic of the room changed. The mother, while quiet and reserved, wiped away a tear even though she tried to be discrete. And their oldest daughter, a pre-teen, who had been sitting calmly beside her mother the entire time laid back behind her mother as if she wanted to hide from the HIV positive result.

Although millions of Africans have HIV particularly in Kisumu where the concentration is the highest, the disease Africans call White Teeth because of its tendency to erode people to skin and bones, still has an enormous impact on people's lives even while the stigma of the disease wanes. The good news is this couple knows their status along with 130,000 others who have been tested in their homes. In fact, the mother is going to get treatment tomorrow and the father was counseled on ways to protect himself and was given 60 condoms.


The second part of the day took us to the Siaya District Hospital, a bumpy hour-long ride away from Kisumu. While there we were told about the clinical trials and studies they are conducting on site like the malaria in pregnancy study where 300 HIV positive expecting mothers are helping researchers determine if antimalarials can be given to expectant moms in the tropics. I was also given the opportunity to talk with a woman in the study through a translator. The woman was happy to be receiving free prenatal care for her fifth child. And like all expectant mothers she was nervous, yet excited about the birth of her baby.

We also visited the maternity ward and pediatric unit at Siaya District Hospital. Expectant mothers are able to receive quality care at the hospital, but sadly it is cost prohibitive to many and the sheer distance to the facility for mothers in the rural countryside make giving birth at Siaya impossible. Most women still birth their babies at home which dramatically increases the rate of maternal and infant death.

Finally we toured the pediatric unit at Siaya. It was gut wrenching to see such sick children some of whom could literally die at any moment. While there were very ill children we saw children walking out of the unit as well. Not every ending is a bad ending with access to quality care. We were also assured that just a few years ago things were much worse. But US funding has helped Siaya District Hospital hire more staff and buy better equipment. And while the pediatric unit is often over capacity, there are many more success stories than in previous years.

I'm learning that while the need is great here in Kenya there are also many successes through well managed programs that work.

Daily Action: Yesterday we visited health clinics that receive direct funding from the United States. Sign ONE's petition asking Congress not to cut funding for these effective programs that are saving lives. Then ask 5 friends to do the same.

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