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The midday sun beat down on our necks as we walked the red clay road through Kuna district. Obel, the director of public health, led the heterogeneous group of mzungu medical students and local community health workers through the village. A community health worker motioned to a home, and we stepped through the door into a cave-like coolness, a respite from the relentless sun outside. We sat on wooden furniture without cushions as Obel greeted the mother who was holding her 18 month old son. The child was too old, the mother too young. But that was why we were there.
This boy was born at home with the help of a traditional birth attendant – an event that is thankfully increasingly rare in North Kamagambo. He had been to the hospital for one postnatal visit, but had not received any further follow up or any of his vaccinations.
The Lwala Community Alliance, in conjunction with RMHC recently launched a program called Thrive Thru Five for children just like this. The goal is to reduce under-five mortality by enrolling all children in North Kamagambo into the program to ensure all vaccinations, regular follow up, HIV testing, and nutrition monitoring is completed for the most vulnerable and traditionally most at-risk population.
Sitting in that one-room home with Obel quietly scratching away notes about the child’s limited medical history and occasionally joking with the mother, the process seemed routine. It was so straightforward and so simple. But it was life changing. This process of the public health team, along with the community health workers, going out to the community to enroll these children, was life changing. This child of a young, uneducated mother, faced incredibly unfavorable odds. He risked threats from easily preventable infectious diseases, possible smoldering HIV infection, and a high risk of malnutrition and its resultant stunting and cognitive delay.
The simple, unglamorous act of the team going out to the boy could change that. It does not mean he will have an untroubled life free of disease. But it does mean that many of the most dangerous and most preventable causes of morbidity and mortality that have for too long ravaged this community may be avoided. The Lwala Community Alliance is committed to that unglamorous, life changing work.
As we stepped out of the cool, dark room and back into the blazing sun, the act felt appropriately representative of the act that had just occurred. We smiled at each other and turned down the road, in search of the next home.
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, 2015
Lwala Community Alliance Board Fellow