In addition to our hospital expansion, we are also adding staff housing to provide our clinical staff living quarters close to the hospital so they can quickly respond to emergencies on nights and weekends. Thanks to all the individuals and our key partners — Ronald McDonald House Charities, Health eVillages, and Izumi Foundation — for making [...]
In February, two Vanderbilt University medical students – Ali Hanson and Ben McCormick – interned at Lwala Community Hospital. Just as they were arriving to Lwala, the hospital was witnessing the first hints of a cholera outbreak.
Here are a few of Ali’s reflections on her month in Lwala.
As I walked into the hospital, I saw a young mother helplessly bent over her dehydrated 5-year-old son as he was gasping for air. She was wailing, signaling impending doom. We rushed to his bed, but it was too late. He was pulseless when we got to him. This was the first time I had ever witnessed a child die before my eyes. It is a moment I will not soon forget.
In the ensuing days, it became clear we had a cholera outbreak on our hands. Children, young adults, and elderly patients were streaming in the doors of the Lwala Community Hospital, all complaining of diarrhea. It was shocking to see so many people so ill from a disease rarely seen in the United States. All of a sudden, the abstract concepts I had once learned in a book became real-life scenarios.
It was fascinating and inspiring to watch the entire Lwala community respond to the sudden outbreak. Before the cause or the source of the diarrhea was known, the Lwala Community Alliance public health team was on the move to discover its origins. Village-to-village, door-to-door, person-to-person, everyone came together to help their community end the suffering as quickly as possible.
The discovery was not surprising: it was dry season in the area with a severe drought, which meant most of the regular water sources were drying up, leaving the Riana River as the main source. As patients came in, they nearly all reported getting their drinking water from the Riana. The Kenyan Ministry of Health confirmed that the causative organism of the outbreak was cholera.
Armed with this information, the public health team set out to educate the community on the severity of the situation and on how to prevent the disease. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this entire process, to see it all unfold in real time. Meetings were held with community health workers to discuss how best to disseminate the information about properly treating and using water, the signs and symptoms of diarrhea, and when to bring someone to the hospital. Educational sessions were held in churches and schools and information was blasted from loudspeakers in nearby markets.
In the meantime, back at the hospital, clinicians and nurses were working around the clock giving fluids and antibiotics at rapid rates, keeping in constant communication with the pharmacy about drug and fluid supplies to ensure they did not run out. An isolation room was set up to prevent transmission from patient-to-patient or patient-to-caregivers. An all out battle was on to save the lives of the people of North Kamagambo.
Thanks to the comprehensive actions taken by everyone at Lwala Community Alliance and in surrounding areas, the outbreak was brought under control as rapidly as possible. As of now, a total of 5 lives have been lost, and more than 100 others have become severely ill. While an outbreak of this magnitude is somewhat rare, diarrhea in children in the area is not. In fact, it is one of the leading killers of children under 5-years-old and has long-lasting effects on growth and development. While it was harrowing to see such a preventable illness threaten and take the lives of so many people, the overwhelming response was positive. I saw firsthand how the people of Lwala and Lwala Community Alliance are doing the kind of work that will eventually eradicate preventable illnesses like diarrhea from the area. One person, one home, one village at a time.
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, 2015