If you build it, you never quite know who will come.
This is what the Prince Edward Island-based Mikinduri Children of Hope (MCOH) Foundation members discovered after the non-profit organization funded the construction of a rehabilitation centre in Mikinduri, Kenya.
The spin-offs from it have been that the provincial director of medical services for that region decided that the small sub-district hospital in Mikinduri on the same plot of land as the new centre needed a full-time doctor and more nursing staff, and there are now four staff at the rehab facility
“There was a bit of a domino effect once we went through that rehab build process, but the beauty of it is that the staff are all funded by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, the capital equipment by the local community and the maintenance and up-keep by the local hospital board, making the centre sustainable,” says Dr. Ed Harrison, who is the local chair of the community-based health-care committee for MCOH, which is marking its 10th year.
Harrison, who is a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Charlottetown, first travelled to Kenya with MCOH in 2009 after hearing about an upcoming medical mission from QEH nurse Kathy Mutch, who was one of a number of P.E.I. health-care professionals on that year’s volunteer team.
“At that point (we were) doing outreach clinics of a general health medical nature,” Harrison says.
“I tended to gravitate towards people with disabilities, but what became clear to me at the time was that the services for persons with disabilities were largely unknown in the population there, and what was known seemed to be awfully scant.”
Upon returning to P.E.I. the local health-care team, which consisted of Harrison, Mutch, Rebecca Campbell and Dr. Jan Rogerson, formed MCOH’s community-based health-care committee to pursue a development project to address the health-care and rehabilitation gaps identified in these clinics.
In 2010, Harrison and Mutch revisited Kenya with a MCOH team, where they conducted clinics at the Mikinduri Hospital. But they also met with potential Kenyan partners for this project, including African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) and the Association for Physically Disabled Kenyans (APDK) and began ongoing collaborations with them.
In January 2011, representatives from MCOH and APDK visited Mikinduri to jointly present a day-long assessment clinic for people with disabilities.
“We had 275 people show up that day. It was just amazing. They came in every form of transportation. They came on their hands and knees. They came on people’s backs. One mother carried her fully-grown son five miles on her back. They came in ox carts, wheelbarrows, on bicycles. You couldn’t believe it, “ says MCOH president Ted Grant.
“People with disabilities in those types of communities are sort of under the radar, so for this small town to see a large number of persons with disabilities coming in was quite interesting, I think. As well, for the persons with disabilities coming in they were fascinated by the fact that, ‘Wow, there are a lot of us here,’ ” Harrison adds.
After assessing the level of need in the area, APDK arranged for monthly local rehab team visits from the neighbouring city of Meru. Their assessment team suggested that the numbers of persons with disabilities likely justified the location of a rehabilitation clinic in Mikinduri. Numerous emails ensued over the next year.
In 2012, Grant and Harrison met with all parties involved. This led to an agreement in which MCOH would finance the construction of a rehab centre. In addition, the Kenyan Provincial Ministry of Health would fund the staffing, APDK would provide the oversight and policy direction and the local MCOH community development organization would raise the funds for capital equipment. The first-class rehab centre, said to be the nicest facility of its kind in the country, opened on July 1, 2013.
When Grant and Harrison return later this month ahead of yet another team of volunteers who will be doing medical, vision and dental mission work and more for three weeks in February, they begin the second part of the multi-phase project, which is working with the Kenyan government to start four community-based outreach clinics that would link to the Mikinduri rehab facility.
“(Since the construction of the centre) they’ve got a doctor for the first time ever in Mikinduri. Now they’ve got clinical officers for the first time in Mikinduri. Once they got the doctor then they decided they had to build an in-patient ward...,” Harrison says. “So, in a sense, what began as the rehab part of the project has actually allowed us to move forward on the whole project of trying to build health-care capacity in Mikinduri.”