KISESINI, Kenya — Global Health Partnerships (GHP) is a non-profit organization based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is comprised of medical professionals and other volunteers who work in partnership with the Kenya Health Ministry. Through this partnership, GHP provides support to the Kisesini Clinic in the form of medical supplies and training its nurses and community health volunteers. The emphasis of Global Health Partnerships in Kenya is on maternal and child health.
Global Health Partnerships Vice President
The Borgen Project had a chance to interview the Vice President of Global Health Partnerships, Ruth O’Keefe, MD, about the life-changing work the organization performs in the rural areas of Kenya. Dr. O’Keefe first became involved with GHP in 2006 when she taught a medical course at the University of New Mexico. One of her students at the time introduced her to the president of GHP, Angelo Tomedi, MD. A year later, she found herself in Kenya when Global Health Partnerships opened its first partnering clinic in September 2007.
Dr. O’Keefe explained the partnership with the Kisesini Clinic developed through a small company in New Mexico named Peace Craft. Through selling woven baskets from the Kisesini village, Peace Craft raised money for the land and construction of the clinic. Dr. Tomedi had a history with Peace Craft and became partners with this effort through his connections. Today, Peace Craft no longer exists, but what it started has created a huge ripple effect of saving lives in Kenya.
When The Borgen Project asked Dr. O’Keefe about the most successful projects from Global Health Partnerships in Kenya, she responded, “Newborn healthcare. It’s most critical within the first week of birth. It’s where we see the most deaths.” She went on to point out that even though a baby has a higher chance of surviving after its first week, it’s still not out of the clear. In fact, “in the village, its taboo to celebrate a birthday before a child turns five years old.” This culture preference came about since children there are most vulnerable until the age of five. However, the GHP’s clinic has helped significantly reduce those odds.
Dr. O’Keefe referred to published results on its efforts in Kisesini and surrounding areas. The facts show that the mortality rate for children under-five had decreased by 47 percent between 1990 and 2012. However, sub-Saharan Africa still held the highest global neonatal mortality rate (34 deaths per 1000 live births). Studies in developing countries with high rates of infant mortality showed that a home visitation program could reduce neonatal death rates by as much as 61 percent. Which is precisely Global Health Partnerships’ primary objective in its communities.
Along with newborn healthcare comes family planning. The organization has improved the availability of birth control for women. More specifically, the Depo shot. Adding an insightful observation, Dr. O’Keefe said, “I’ve never seen a calendar in any one’s house, but they all know exactly when it’s time to get their next shot.” Its evident GHP has empowered women to embrace family planning and choose when and how many children they have. “Providing birth control is huge in maintaining overpopulation and decreasing the number of malnourished children.” Dr. O’Keefe stated in support of this program.
Another lifesaving initiative of Global Health Partnerships in Kenya is its outreach clinics. Dr. O’Keefe told The Borgen Project that nurses and volunteers pack up the clinic’s ambulance with general medical supplies, vaccinations and birth control (Depo shots), then travel and administer healthcare to populations far away and isolated from such care. The organization is also in charge of teaching the nurses how to drive an ambulance. Most people in that region have never driven a vehicle before. The ambulances are needed to transport women in labor to the clinic or a nearby hospital.
Since the partnership with the Kisesini Clinic, Global Health Partnerships has expanded the original structure to include a maternity ward. There, newborns are monitored and treated during their most vulnerable times. Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) is a GHP initiative that incentivizes local nurses to take their patients to the clinic for professional medical assisted deliveries. If the nurses do so, GHP provides the nurses with a per diem. This project of Global Health Partnerships has proven to be so successful that the Kenya Health Ministry asked for expansion into adjacent communities. Now, the program includes health facilities in Kisesini, Katangi, Kisiiki, Ikombe, Kikesa and Kithenuni.
Dr. O’Keefe emphasized that the key to her organization’s success is its partnership with the Kenya Ministry of Health. She stated that “Clinics in Kenya that have partnerships like ours are the ones that do not run out of medical supplies.” Not only are medical supplies and vaccines readily available at its clinic but Global Health Partnerships make sure proper and regular maintenance of the ambulance happens. The clinic has become an established source of healthcare for the community it serves. Without this organization, the locals wouldn’t have access to such stable care.
The Borgen Project then asked Dr. O’Keefe if Global Health Partnerships had any growth goals for the organization. She said that the ideal growth for GHP would be to double its overall impact in Kenyan communities. The plan is to partner with one more clinic and support it with the same type of successful projects as the Kisesini Clinic. But, a considerable focus on expansion would be the TBA project along with a focus on feminine hygiene. Girls in these rural Kenyan villages miss up to a week of school every month during her menstrual cycle and fall behind other students. GHP is coming up with innovative ways to address this matter, such as the utilization of washable pads.
Global Health Partnerships in Kenya has helped improve the infant mortality rate by providing newborn healthcare. It has also helped empower women to prioritize family planning. Through its outreach clinics, more people are gaining access to healthcare. The success of the GHP’s programs has inspired expansion. Hopefully, GHP’s goal of doubling its impact will become a reality.
– Ariana Kiessling