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A Healthy Community is a Wealthy Community

By ERIC KIMORI

· Africa,Health,Community Assistance,Human Rights

Access to quality healthcare is ensured in the Kenya Constitution 2010. Thus, it is the right of every Kenyan citizen. Every election cycle, politicians canvass villages and promise to build hospitals and improve healthcare. But that, often, is as far as it goes—mere promises. Ironically, the politician’s personal and family healthcare is covered by the government.

If the government takes care of the state officers and the politicians’ healthcare, then who is responsible for taking care of the poor and barely literate people in the villages? Unfortunately, these people may not even be aware about their right to quality healthcare.

Amidst this distress, one voice of change has emerged in Western Kenya. She is a voice of compassion and commitment to deliver quality healthcare to the poorest of the poor.

Roselyne Nyakona is the CEO of Healthcare Rescue Centre (HRC) – a non-governmental organization founded in 2013 that provides free healthcare to the remote villages in the two counties of Nyamira and Kisii.

Roselyn at work.

Photo from Roselyne Nyakona

I visited Roselyne at her day job workplace at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital to speak with her about her work, passion and future plans. On a sunny Monday afternoon, sitted behind a shiny small desk, a pen in hand, was the person that was transforming the lives of poor villagers in this region. There is no smell of power and opulence in this small room. Just the constant beep from her mobile phone, which I guessed must be the many calls to help which she recieves from various people and communities she serves. What greeted me was pure simplicity and humility.

I asked her, “What drives you to do what you do?”

“No one deserves to die from a treatable condition. It is unforgivable if we had a chance to save a life and we didn’t, whether through negligence or mere disinterest,” she said and sat up.

“Let me give you an example,” she continued. “When I was young, I suffered from a terminal illness. I was destined to die. My heart had a hole in it, if I may use the layman’s language. The doctors advised for a heart surgery. But my family did not have the money to pay for such an expensive operation. Therefore, my dad planned for a fundraising in our church. But the villagers were much poorer than us. They could not even raise money enough to transport me and my dad from Nyamira to Nairobi.”

There was a knock. We both looked simulatenously to the direction of the door. The knob turned hesitantly. An elderly woman, probably in her 70s, stood at the door. I knew she needed medical attention. So I excused myself and waited at the bench outside Roselyne’s office. After a short while, the woman stepped out and I went back in.

“It took the intervention of well-wishers, some of them strangers to pay for my surgery,” she continued, ignoring the disruption that we had a while ago. I found my seat. “In other cultures, what I’m doing is callled ‘paying forward’. When you receive the kind of grace I received from God and well-wishers, the best way to pay back is to help others.”

Roselyn teaching young girls about sanitary pads.

Photo from Roselyne Nyakona

“Tell me about Healthcare Rescue Centre,” I said.

“Five years ago, I thought of establishing a charity organization which could champion for the rights of the poor and vulnerable people, especially women and children in rural areas. I consulted my husband, other family members, and colleagues. The outcome was the birth of Healthcare Rescue Centre. From the onset, I envisioned equal access to quality healthcare as a basic human right. And HRC has lived up to this vision.”

“Our main activities are free medical camps in remote villages and health literacy through community outreach events and workshops. In all the medical camps, we provide local communities, especially women and children, free medical care. We conduct these camps at least once every month in various villages. In almost all instances, we collaborate with local health facilities for referrals and linkage incase patients need further examination or care.”

“Do people pay for services during these medical camps?” I asked.

“Absolutely not. We mobilize for drugs, volunteer medical personnel and other logistics. When we take a medical camp to a village, we treat everyone that turns up for free. In fact sometimes we organize for surgical camps and take consultant surgeons to the village to provide quality services to people who could never have afforded such level of healthcare.”

“You talked about health literacy, please expound,” I inquired.

“Health literacy involves building the capacity of healthcare providers to do their work well, especially through continuous medical education; and creating awareness in the community about specific conditions or promoting healthcare-seeking behaviours at community level.”

She paused and looked at me, and then added, “For example last month on September 30th was World Heart Day. Even though it is a global day marked worldwide, I organized for a Heart Walk and mobilized several people and local organizations including Kisii University, Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, private hospitals, and companies to partcipate in the Walk. We marched through the streets of Kisii town to raise awareness about cardiovascular conditions. The climax was at Gusii stadium where we held a half marathon and free medical camp. On that day alone we reached over 3,500 people with targeted information on heart health.”

Heart Walk parade during World Health Day

Photo from Roselyne Nyakona

“Where do you get the money to do all these activities? I asked.

“Funding has been our greatest challenge. Sometimes I spend my salary or savings if there is an emergency but most of the time I ask friends and well-wishers to support. But we need a more constant and sustainable funding stream because the need is big and we are unable to cope with the demand.”

“You have been constantly referring to ‘we’ or ‘our’.Who are these people?”

She broadly grinned at this question. “I cannot work alone. I work with a team of excellent volunteers. The success you see must never be accredited to me alone. For example, my husband is one of my biggest donors. So I’m not alone.”

“What else do you do?”

“Gender-Based Violence is one area that is important to us. We participate in all activities organized by other organizations concerning this kind of violence. Every year we organize a Women in Health Empowerment conference to raise awareness about all forms of gender-based violence including female genital mutilation. We also participate in the annual 16 days of activism every November to team up with other actors in the quest to end this violence in our generation.”

“Of course, cancer is emerging as the biggest threat to human existence now. We at HRC are so keen on incorporating cancer screening at each medical camp we conduct. When cancer is discovered early, it’s easier to manage it.”

“Beyond healthcare provision, we also support orphans and vulnerable children in the communities we serve. Sometimes we provide food, clothing or shelter, but more often we help them access education so that they can have the hope of living better lives in the future.” She added.

Photo from Roselyne Nyakona

“What are your future plans?” I asked.

“I wish to leave my day job in the hospital and work fulltime with HRC. As you can imagine, that is a big risk to undertake. But I hope we will get funding soon so that we can be stable enough to continue serving the needy.”

“Thank you so much for your time and I wish you well in your work and future plans.” I concluded and rose to leave, having been greatly inspired.

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