In Kenya’s Turkana District, 200 people swarm around AMREF’s mobile health unit. As they await consultations and vaccinations, John Losikiriat, the District’s Assistant Chief, weaves through the crowd exhibiting pictures of and describing the symptoms associated with illnesses like TB and cholera.
"When AMREF introduced its community-based health care program in Lokichoggio in 1990, I became a member of the village health committee,” John recalls. “If things were to change, we needed to get involved in improving the health of our people.” To fund the emerging health system, “the committee decided that each family would contribute one goat per year towards the program."
Then, “in 2004, I became a Trainer of Trainers, creating more people like myself who are armed with information…Twice a year, I get refresher training from AMREF."
John reports that, "Most of my effort goes into health education. Many Turkana are illiterate and do not know the basics of prevention and care. I talk to them about symptoms of diseases and emphasize the importance of going to a health facility for treatment as early as possible. I speak about the importance of immunization and of proper pre-natal care. I also keep a look out for any signs of an outbreak of disease and report it to the nearest health center."
The Turkana, a nomadic people, endure harsh and hostile circumstances: the weather is intolerably hot, their community “live[s] under constant threat of attacks from neighboring communities…[that] raid us and take our animals, which are our livelihood,” and water shortages are relentless. Unsanitary living conditions, close contact with livestock, water-borne diseases, and extreme poverty conspired to constantly plague this population with debilitating, highly contagious illnesses. "Before AMREF came to help us, we had been forgotten,” explains John.
Now, he says, there is a new awareness of simple prevention techniques, symptom detection, and treatment options. The Turkana “are adopting healthier habits” as a result of AMREF’s Integrated Health and Social Development program, John asserts. “There has been a gradual but definite change of attitude and behavior in the community."