A trip to Kibera with US Congressional staffers
The rain pounded the evening before. Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa and home to close to more than 700,000 people (though officially 170,000), is filled with alleyways and open sewers, not good on any day, but worse during and after rain. I’ve been to Kibera several times but this was the first time I was visiting accompanied by a fact-finding mission of staffers for U.S. Congressional members of the Appropriations Committee: Virginia M. Boney, office of Senator Lindsey Graham, Binta Beard, office of Senator Richard Durbin, Jean Doyle, office of Senator Barbara Mikulski and Karen A. Robb, from the office of Representative Chris Van Hollen, a member of the House Budget Committee. The visit was arranged by Carol Bergman and Christine Lubinski both from the Infectious Disease Society of America. They were great company – and really knowledgable about international development issues, particularly focused on US funded HIV programs.
They accompanied AMREF’s Kenya Country Director, myself and our wonderful Kibera staff to see a project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The comprehensive HIV program, has been operated since 2003 by AMREF at the Kibera health center. The visitors wanted to understand how U.S. Government funds help to save lives and bring better health to African families.
Kibera is home to people from many ethnicities and they are among the most resilient and entrepreneurial people I’ve met. Kibera teems with small businesses selling hand-made furniture, hair-braiding services, mobile phone plans, music and fresh and cooked foods sold out of market stalls. What’s so amazing is that most people here live on less than $1.25 a day.
Since the famine and drought, the population has grown by 10,000 people who’ve come from rural areas in Kenya all looking for food and jobs – both in short supply in Kibera. Particularly for former pastoralists living off herds that graze the land, the drought has been disastrous. They face tough conditions settling and integrating into life in Kibera. They join a hyper-urbanized community that was already facing increasing food prices, over-crowded living conditions and poor sanitation.
With the exception of the perimeter, there are no paved roads in Kibera, only dirt footpaths. The pounding rains had flooded the paths and mud was everywhere. We found our way to the AMREF clinic where women children and men, the young and old, sat in rows waiting for medical care. Some were there for routine healthcare, others for their HIV anti-viral and TB medicines. Children were being vaccinated.
At the Kibera AMREF health center we heard that the number of patients seen at the clinc in the past few months has nearly doubled, to as many as 200 per day. We heard firsthand reports from the maternal & child health staff that they are seeing an increase in malnutrition in children. Malnutrition is dangerous as it makes children more susceptible to illnesses. At the AMREF clinic, every child is screened for malnutrition, no exceptions. AMREF, in collaboration with the Red Cross, is providing emergency nutrition & food aid to these families to prevent further damage and give them the nutrition they need to stay healthy and resist disease. Nearly 70% of the children are malnourished.
|Rose, baby Mwemde, and Lisa|
We talked with Rose, an AMREF community health worker, who was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2004 and has been taking her anti-viral medications provided by AMREF which are funded by United States government aid programs. She proudly told us about her toddler, Mwemde, born one and a half years ago HIV free thanks to her access to medication, and her understanding of how to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. Rose shares her knowledge with members of the community – and encourages them to come to the Kibera clinic and be tested. She told us that she understands that she can live positively with HIV – and she can be healthy. She told us AMREF had saved her life. It’s very humbling to hear this – and it makes me even more determined to ensure that AMREF has the resources to continue and to expand our work.
Seeing people suffer is never easy. Still, meeting people like Rose – who has overcome some very difficult odds, and is hopeful for herself and her daughter – is very inspiring.
The delegation left Kibera proud of what Americans have made possible in this area of Kenya. I know I did.
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