Long journey to the borders without doctors



The four-wheel drive Toyota vehicle that was leading the way on a rugged road, ahead of a ten-tonne lorry, came to a halt at the edge of a river without a bridge. The headlights illuminated the reddish water of a wide Kakong river flowing in slow current.

The truck made the first plunge to cross but in the middle, it appeared lose power. The time was shortly past midnight. Moonlight illuminated the grassy plains around us and made the river water glitter like iron sheets. The truck revved and heaved and finally managed to make it across. The Toyota followed easily.

Four such experiences would be repeated in the night as the vehicles powered their way to Kakuma an Lodwar, through roads that had been destroyed by recent rains.

Our team had joined a Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies (Meds) transport crew who were delivering an assortment of drugs to Government and church health facilities in the vast semi-arid region.

Scary night

A truck crosses a damaged drift on Kalimo River along Lodwar-Kakuma road in Turkana Central District.  [PHOTOS: BONIFACE OKENDO/STANDARD]

What had started in Nairobi in the morning as a smooth journey to Kitale, had turned into a scary night experience through one of the most tteacherous roads in Kenya.

The Meds crew had preferred to drive on at night from Kitale to Kapenguria and onwards to Lodwar because they reckon it is safer that during the day when bandits prowl the route. Hussein Abdalla, the Meds truck driver has plied the Kitale-Lokichoggio road since 2006 and hehad prepared us for the tough journey.

"The road is dangerous and very rough. The road is flat so we have drifts instead of bridges to cross rivers. Bandits attack often but the incidents are fewer at night," he had said as we left Kitale.

We navigated drifts at Marich, Kaleng’morok and Kakong, which are known spots for flash floods that can sweep away a ten-tonne lorry like a piece of paper. A hair-raising incident happened as we crossed Kakong. Soon as we were over the drift, with the Toyota behind, we noticed a group of about 10 armed

men surrounding the drug truck which was just heaving out of the river. But, as our hearts almost stopped, the group appeared to let us pass without a hitch.

Lift to lodwar

We were later told by Hussein, the truck driver, they had only asked for a lift to Lodwar but were told the truck was loaded. They had spent the better part of the night pursuing their stolen goats and were walking back home.

At 4am, lights loomed ahead and the driver said we had made it to Lodwar. It was 20 hours since we had left Nairobi. The first drop for drugs was at Lodwar Mission Hospital.

Off-loading was done quickly and we proceeded to Kakuma. If the journey to Lodwar had been treacherous, then the last leg to Kakuma was hell. At one point the road was completely cut off and vehicles had to look for a path through the bush.

The following day, after passing Kakuma, we embarked on some of the most neglected regions of Turkana region.

Meds, a church-based organisation, supplies drugs to Government and mission hospitals and other community based health facilities in the region and elsewhere.

Dr Jane Masiga, the Head of Operations at Meds said, before we left Nairobi: "We extend services to the wider public through partnerships that assist the Government to increase access to treatment through public, faith-based and other non Governmental health facilities.

In the vast Turkana region, there are only two-referral hospitals, Kakuma Mission Hospital and the Lodwar District hospital, 200 kilometres apart.


Save lives

"It is generally hard to access quality medical healthcare in these districts and the Government should do something about it to save lives," said Elizabeth Mwaniki, , the nurse in-charge at Kakuma Mission Hospital.

"The mission hospital is overstretched given the huge number of patients it serves. We cover about 90,000 refugees and 65,000 local people," said Mr David Edoket, the hospital administrator.

Edoket said the hospital has only one surgeon and a medical doctor seconded by through United Nations High Commission for Refugees. It has twenty-five nurses and about nine patient attendants.

Over 500 cases of cholera were reported, mostly during the rain seasons that have caused flooding in the past one year.

But even as the Government partners with church-based facilities to save lives, medical practitioners are calling on the Government to act fast on infrastructure and improve staffing to save more lives in the region.

Health practitioners say Constituency Development Fund-build health facilities are yet to make an impact in the regionas most of them are non-operational due to lack of staff. time."

Elizabeth Mwaniki, the nurse in-charge at Kakuma Mission Hospital, said hospitals under the Turkana Catholic Diocese play a key role in the health sector.

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