May 12th, 2018 – Kisumu, Kenya
Author: Noah Kozminski
The Matibabu team continues screening the area for local groups interested in their project — an easily transportable malaria testing machine that doesn’t need to draw blood to provide a diagnosis. Led by James and Roger, two Kenyan university students, the team ventures to Migosi — a ward in Kisumu County — to gain information from a local hospital and speak with families about their experience with malaria.
As is the case with many equatorial and tropical regions, malaria is a serious concern in Kenya, and treatment and prevention of the disease can be difficult with under-funded medical facilities straining to reach their constituents. In Migosi, James and Roger then lead the Matibabu team around the district to meet with groups of local mothers and discuss how malaria affects them and their families.
The team’s first visit is to a housing compound hosting seven mothers, each with between two and nine children, a total of 25 kids in the complex — a common living situation in the area. Responses from the women reveal it is difficult for them to maintain adequate protection from malaria-carrying mosquitos, as their protective bed nets are torn. These nets, which keep insects away while sleeping, are provided by local health centers around once a year; but this isn’t often enough. The women tell the team their nets are often ripped after only three or four months, some families having been without a net for as long as six months.
With these inadequate preventative measures, malaria is often contracted. “Even now, I have malaria,” one mother responds, to wide laughter, upon being asked if she has had the disease. Getting a cure for malaria is not a trivial matter. The process can be prohibitively expensive, say the women. For treatment, you must pay for a ride to the local hospital — “You cannot walk when you are sick” — then cover the costs of medicine and the time-consuming diagnostic test: a total of around 600 Kenyan shillings (6 USD), a steep cost for low-income households. Volunteer community health workers cannot do enough to help without funding, the women say, as they are not provided with transportation or medicine to give to the sick.
At Migosi Sub-County Hospital, two members of the team speak with a doctor about the malaria treatment process. They find almost all tests are done with a microscope and slide, a tedious process managed by only two technicians. “They’re so overworked, and don’t have the supplies they need,” says Jake Fox, a Matibabu team member. According a doctor, the hospital sees an average of 80 patients a day, many of whom have malaria.
The team also visited a local group providing support for HIV/AIDS positive men, gauging interest for the Matibabu device with an often-stigmatized demographic. The device allows for private testing, alleviating privacy concerns for these men.
With the inefficiencies and inconveniences in the current approach to malaria prevention and treatment, the team is finding receptive audiences in the greater Kisumu area.