October 12, 2016 Leave a comment
September 26, 2016 Leave a comment
About a month ago I had an attack while crossing the streets, I had to stop right there in the middle of oncoming traffic. It’s bad. You cannot move. You are not afraid of anything else, as the headache becomes everything. I almost did not come today, because I had a crisis last night, but my mother prayed for me all night. Recently the headaches have been frequent and intense, since I have no way of procuring treatment and medication without medical cover. I require approximately Kshs 10,000/ every time I visit the doctor to cover consultation and medication. My current source of income cannot support that.
I first had a seizure in 2003 while in primary school in Mtitu Wandei. I thank God that my father had a medical cover for us, so I was treated at either Pandya or Aga Khan Mombasa, I cannot really recall which. My mother would ensure that I had my medication and things remained relatively stable. When I joined High School, I would have a seizure maybe once or twice annually. However, things went terribly wrong when my O-Level results were released. I had failed. I was devastated and my father was very angry and disappointed. I am my parents’ first female child and they naturally want to see me doing well. My results had found me recovering from an appendicitis surgery. My mother suggested I go back to school to try again to better my results. I was admitted, this time at a school in Machakos, in form three with a fresh surgical wound. Subsequently, I spent approximately one and a half of those two additional years in high school, away being attended to medically in Mombasa. My final exams also found me out and I was brought in from hospital to do my examinations.
I failed again. Dad was livid. My medical alone had cost them approximately 5 million in my High School days. I attempted suicide by taking all my Migraine medication. I slipped into a comma that lasted a week. I was diagnosed as being in Psychological trauma, stress. My father and I went through a week of counselling at Mombasa Hospital. He mostly avoided me before and after this time, addressing me through my mother.
My mum suggested that I take a certificate course in IT. I joined the Kenya Polytechnic and moved to Nairobi to live with my Aunt in Kariobangi. I would sometimes faint in the house while with her. After my certificate course, which I now passed, my parents took me to Catholic University of East Africa to pursue a Diploma in IT. My dad was much friendlier. My self-esteem which had been really low, was boosted by his approval and my marks. During the six months that I was at the University, I only sought medical attention twice, for unrelated conditions. I did very well in my examinations.
I needed to go in for an evaluation at Aga Khan Hospital in Parklands. Up till this time, I had not had a particular doctor I was seeing. It was here that I met Dr. Sylvia Mbugua. It was she that finally diagnosed me with Migraines. She recommended an MRI and noticed the number of seizures that I had experienced. She also noted my mental distress. She managed me well. She recommended a tripartite medication that took into consideration and cancelled out the negative side effects, including possible barrenness, that could have resulted with me just taking one form of medication. She also warned me against taking Betapin which for me had the effects of making me high, in the way alcohol would and another drug Rizatriptan that induced suicidal thoughts. She recommended lifestyle changes in terms of diet and exercise which included drinking a lot of water. I could not drink especially wine, and not smoke. Manipulation of my hair into various styles affects me so I keep it short. Since I am no longer a student, and my current employer is new and does not offer medical cover I have been without medication between April and September. I now live alone with my sister in Nairobi, and enjoy my work. I hope that I can be able to go back to school, mainly so I can again have access to my father’s medical insurance which covers me as long as I am a student. I also pray that I can find Dr. Sylvia again so that she can continue to walk with me through this. She left Aga Khan hospital. I now mostly try to manage the Migraine attacks through my lifestyle.
photos and words by: NaMeD Afrika Studios
First published in The Sunday Standard’s Sunday Magazine – September 25, 2016
September 17, 2016 Leave a comment
Imagine you are a teenage girl or a boy, you are young, smart, beautiful, talented. You aspire to play, laugh, create, perform, achieve. Yet, you live in an informal settlement or a slum area in Nairobi. The streets where you live are not safe. You need to do an extra effort to get a decent education, school fees, stationary, textbooks. You don’t have easy access to … things, things that a teenage kid in a developed country would take for granted. So you need to work harder to… just to be able to be a normal kid. Except that you are not, you are exceptional.
I met this exceptional boy. I met this exceptional girl. A whole group actually. They call themselves Thunder Squad. They live in distant areas in Nairobi, Tassia, Embakasi. They are young, talented, passionate. They are a team of sixteen kids, aged between 14 and 25, majority of them are at high school level. Four children are aged…
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September 8, 2016 Leave a comment
I am 39 years old. I was diagnosed with High Blood Pressure by a doctor at the Webuye District Hospital.
It began one morning with a terrible headache, accompanied by intolerance to any kind of sound. All sound manifested as noise and I resisted the impulse to bang my head against hard surfaces. I was with my husband and he rushed me to hospital. They decided to check my blood pressure and it was at 210/110. The nurse who checked me, was uneasy about the result and she called in another nurse, who repeated the test. They had a hushed conversation between then and then the initial nurse left the room to come back minutes later with a doctor in her tail. He connected his machine and repeated the test and said to them “there is nothing wrong with your machine. The test is accurate.” He put a pill under my tongue, then one of the nurses injected me with what we were told was valium. It was now about 2pm in the afternoon.
They suggested admission but I resisted as my youngest child was 2 years old and needed me. I did not have a house help. I agreed however to come in daily for assessment and medication. My book was full of ‘patient refused admission’. They put me on Inderal for my blood pressure, Lasix to drain excess water in my system, and Ponstan Forte for the headache. Ponstan cost 300 shillings per tablet then. I don’t know if that was the real price or the chemist, to which we went to purchase my medication, was trying to exploit us. But the price was one of two reasons that helped me decide not to purchase it. The other was Dr. Ken’s advice. He was my husband’s close friend and a medical doctor. Dr. Ken talked to me about the dangers of addiction to pain medication, especially strong ones like the ones the hospital had prescribed for me.
I was asked by the hospital staff, after this and on subsequent attacks, about my family’s medical history. My maternal grandfather suffered a stroke just before I was born and was paralyzed by it on his left side. He too resisted medication. He was very fond of me. He lived 15 years after the stroke and then passed on. On my first attack a nurse heartlessly said to me that that was where I was headed. I rejected that heritage. One of my sisters also bleeds heavily during her pregnancies and suffers the swelling of her eyes. I also went through something similar during my last pregnancy, where I woke up once or twice to find my bedding soaked in blood. I did not seek medical attention for it, and my daughter was born healthy in September of 2011 by the grace of God. I was also asked if there was anything that would cause me undue stress. I told them even living in a police line was not a stress factor for me. I had a relatively good life.
One time I had an attack in the night when my husband was away on duty. We were still living in a police camp at that time, a fact I thank God for. My children were able to run to a neighbour’s house, my husband’s colleague named Koech, and he rushed me to hospital. My head was aching badly, and when they checked my pressure, it was extremely high. They tried to get me to agree to admission, but three of my four children were unwell and on medication. I had no help at home and my husband’s work hours could not be changed to fit into their prescribed schedules. I could not leave my children alone.
I was lucky again, Dr. Ken was at hand to cover for me. He told the doctor attending to me that he knew me, and that I would be faithful in taking my medication and also attending a daily clinic. They again injected me with valium to help with the pain, and put a pill under my tongue. I was later to find out that this pill is called Propranolol. Koech took me home. My pressure was still very high the next morning but the hospital did not detain me. I eventually stabilised. I remained on Inderal and Lasix for the next two years. The headaches seldom came, but when they did, I took Panadol.
In 2005, my husband was transferred to Malindi and because there were some challenges with regard to accommodation, and I also wanted my children to have some stability with regard to their education, I opted to go live with my mother in Kisumu. My mother is a Clinician so she monitored my blood pressure and made sure I took my medication. One April afternoon, I noticed that there was a crusade happening at a hall in Mamboleo, just opposite my mother’s clinic. I asked my mother to take my blood pressure, as I was going over to be healed. I was so tired of medication. She took it and it was high. I went over to the meeting which was being run by Pastor Muliri and Bishop Mark Kegohe. The Bishop announced that there was a healing grace. He called on those with various illnesses that were able to believe God for healing to get up. We were asked to lay our hands on the general area in which we sought healing. I didn’t put my hands on any part of my body. I just spoke to God from my heart; I told him blood was all over my body and so I could not touch a specific part. I asked Him to go to the place where the problem lay and restore it as He had intended for it to work at my creation. I was calm. I went home and my mother measured my blood pressure and it had gone down significantly.
I have never taken any medication since that day, 11years ago, and my BP has remained relatively stable. In terms of diet, my husband loves beef so we have to eat it daily, to the point where one of my sons cannot stand it. I also went off salt for about a year. A few times, I have had a terrible headache that necessitated my going to hospital, and it was during one of those times that I met Dr. Lusi. But I am generally well, all glory to God. I have come to believe that the only thing that can beat science is faith in God.
Photos by Nash of NaMeD Afrika Studios
First Published in The Standard’s Sunday Magazine on September 4, 2016
September 8, 2016 Leave a comment
The man arrives at the health center late into the night. He is helped by a community health volunteer, and between them, they support a wailing pregnant woman. All of them are wet, and bloody. A nurse takes the man’s place and supports the woman to the labor ward while the man gets someone to sign a little book and then leaves into the night. He is back two hours later, in different clothes, equally wet, equally bloody, this time he is holding a baby in one arm, while supporting a tired woman with his other. The nurses rush towards him and relieve him. They know him well. He is here almost every night. He is not staff, he is a perpetual good Samaritan.
We traveled to Bumula sub-county, Bumula village to find out from the 34 year old married father of three Godwin Simiyu Wanyonyi (Gordy) just why he does what he does. Many men would probably rather walk through fire, than be with a woman, for any period of time, who was in labor, especially in the latter stages, even when it is their wife or close relative. But in Bungoma County we met, not just one, but 13 of 23 men with a different perspective. And just in case you are thinking that Bungoma County has hoarded Gynecologists, you are wrong. These are ordinary men, Boda-Boda riders with a calling that leads them to choose to be around pregnant women in labor, to support them by taking them, free of charge, to a health center for medically assisted deliveries.
“I don’t know why, but most women give birth at night,” begins this hero in Kiswahili. “Some nights I get as many as three urgent calls. I respond to all. Many of them are in advanced stages of labor and this for me means that we sit on blood and water all the way to the health center. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes the baby comes on the way to hospital, and I never shy away from the challenge of helping out. Most times the lady is accompanied by a Birth Companion, a Community Health worker, her mother in law or a female relative. Sometimes, like last week, it’s just the two of us.”
Even in the best of times, the rush to hospital when in labour is, to say the least, uncomfortable for most women with the ever present risk of losing the mother or child to the journey. This is even more challenging in the counties outside the capital. In some places, women are ferried on the back of Lorries transporting quarry stones in attempts to save their lives and those of their soon to be born babies. Bernard Mare, a Transport Officer with the Ministry of Health Bungoma explains “Many places in the County are inaccessible to regular ambulances due to climatic and infrastructural challenges. Many homes are at least 5kms from the nearest health centers and can only be accessed through footpaths, sometimes mountainous like in the Mount Elgon areas. When it rains, and it is night, family and community members here either use makeshift stretchers with blankets to carry women either to the centers or to a waiting Bodaboda at more level places. Some are brought in on wheelbarrows. Bodabodas, though considered dangerous by most, is the way most people get anywhere these parts of the country, so it makes sense to encourage their use, with caution of cause.”
“I have been a Boda-Boda man for 9 years, and whenever I see someone sick, I help them – for free. I think this is what built my regard in this area, but I didn’t know just how much until the election. In June last year, the sub-chiefs announced in the markets and in the villages around that they were looking for a Bodaboda man to help the villagers get to hospital, especially in the night. They, the Government, GlaxoSmithKline and Save the Children, had laid out about ten requirements that this man needed to have. He was to be dependable, a man whose phone was never off, with a volunteer spirit, not a drunkard or criminal, someone who would best represent the community. I had a funeral on the day the election was to take place so I went” Says Gordy.
“The requirements were deliberately stringent. With the challenges in the area, including security, we needed mature men, with good reputations, with valid Riders’ licences, Insurance and a log book showing that they owned the bike they were riding.” Explains Felix Makasanda a Community Development Officer with the Boresha Programme that rose up to respond to Gordy’s initiative.
“When we were just about to bury, I got a call from one of the community health volunteers who knew me well. They told me to hurry back to the market and try my luck. There were about 60 riders who had responded to the call. Some had been campaigning and had come with their supporters. When I walked in, their morale dropped, and one or two asked me what I was doing there. The short of it, is that most of my competitors became my supporters. At the end of it, the community shortlisted five of us, and I got the most votes,” smiles Gordy. At least, Gordy could now fuel his bike on his mercy errands and have a something left to care for his family.
“It’s not easy,” his beautiful wife Janet Nafula contributes. “Many of the women get pregnant in the food season and give birth in the drought season. Sometimes these calls come in at night. As a human being of cause there are times I feel bad, but I have learnt to wake him up and release him, with a prayer. The night holds many issues. I am proud of what he does. Sometimes it rains, and in those nights, he could get as many as three calls. Which means I get to wash more clothes, but I do not mind it. I know he is out saving lives, and I trust him totally. He has never been one with a wandering eye, so that does not even worry me,” she says playfully. “He is a responsible father and husband. We have never slept hungry, he has bought and built on this plot, my children are all I school by God’s grace, the last being in a private school. He has helped set me up in a small hotel business where I have 4 employees, and where he comes in to help from time to time. We also farm goats, chicken, maize and beans, which is where we started off.”
How do they get to know his number? “My mobile number is like a hotline around here. The Chiefs announce it during funerals, in churches, at the hospital during clinics and at meetings. Former traditional birth attendants as well as community health volunteers have it.” Gordy explains. One of his beneficiaries Mildred Nanjala Simiyu, not a relative of his, who had her baby in March this year shares how on the day she went into labour, they had no way of getting to the hospital. The young mother of three, had walked to the health centers in the company of her loving mother in law for the first two births. This time though, it was raining, dark, and the path to her home in Bonambobi village in Bumula is full of twists and turns and narrows to barely passable footpaths closer to home. It is about two and a half kilometers from Gordy’s. She had challenges with pregnancy related hypertension. Her mother in law had heard about a BodaBoda Ambulance that transport’s people to hospital for free. “I was surprised by how fast he responded. He rode fast, it was just the two of us that night. My mother in law had to stay back to care for the other children. He saved my life and that of my baby Hilda. If it was not for him, I would have died in the process of trying to have the baby here. She kept presenting her chin first.”
Jessica Wamalwa had a similar experience. She got Gordy’s number from a neighbor at around 11pm in the night. It was a rainy night. “I was overwhelmed. He was gentle and encouraging. He would ride at the pace that was comfortable for me, but would not stop when I asked him to. He said it was important to get me to hospital. Sometimes he would use one arm to hold me steady on my back. We rode also with my mother in law. By God’s grace I had baby Prosper at 3am.”
Gordy confesses that there have been some challenges. The weather, the roads especially on rainy nights, his susceptibility to frequent bouts to malaria and pneumonia. The lack of proper riding and safety gear is also a challenge for him. “I wish also that they would train us in basic first aid so that we could be more useful in cases where the babies come before we get to the health centers. I have so far, in the past years, had four women give birth when I was taking them to hospital.” The other Riders agree with him on these challenges. Pastor Wilfred Otunga who has been doing this work for 20 years due to his love for children says “There is also said to be a ghost rider who terrorizes road users. Many who have seen it describe it as a jacket riding a bodaboda. I have never met it. I believe God has been with me. Many of us have also met with thugs and thankfully none of us has lost their bikes.” Lack of clarity on the role they are playing, by police on patrol was previously a challenge, but since their partners gave them branded reflector jackets with government and partner logos and branded as Ambulance.
Gordy’s twelve colleagues are grateful to him for his perseverance, and good example that impacted all of them to do the work they do. They also appreciate the assistance that has come as a result of their love for their communities. Like Gordy, many have bought land and built their simple homes on them. Some are educating children at all levels including at the University. They have also initiated businesses for their wives in which they work when they are not on the road. Most importantly, it has enamored them to the communities that chose them for this noble work and are committed to supporting them. They echo Gordy’s sentiments as he concludes our day, “I am convinced I was born to do this. I am grateful for the help I have received from the partners, but I did it before and I will do it long after they leave.”
What They Said
Mildred – Gordy is the kind of person who reacts urgently to every call. If it was not for that, I would have died in labor. He is helping the women here, they will not have their children at home unless they do not have Gordy’s number. The number of deaths of mothers has also reduced significantly. I have his number and would recommend him to any woman in labor.
Jessica – Gordy’s work is meaningful. I don’t think my neighbor would have helped me without transport. I had seen his number on display during clinic. But on that day, I got it from the community health volunteer who is my neighbour called Martin.
Dr. Brian Inima – MOH Bumula Sub-County: The BodaBoda Ambulances have increased greatly the number of hospital deliveries.
Bernard Mare –Transport Officer MOH Bungom: Gordy has a lot of passion for the work he does. He has a big heart.
Dr. John Papaya – Coordinator of Community Health Services, Bungoma County: Gordy has a lot of humanity. No man would otherwise volunteer to do the work he is doing.
Photos and Stories by NaMeD Afrika Studios – (Nashon David Dwoya and Vip Ogola)
First Published on The Sunday Standard’s Sunday Magazine on September 4, 2016