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Medis fights fistula shame

By Maureen Akinyi | Jul 27th 2013 | 5 min read

By Maureen Akinyi

You are involved in such a noble initiative. Tell us about it.

I quit my well paying job as a pharmacist to start Mega Importers, dealing with supply of adult pads for women who suffer urine and feacal incontinence.

What inspired the initiative?

About five years ago, I had a close relative admitted in hospital who had both urine and faecal incontinence. One day, the nurses asked us to get adult diapers for the patient. I went from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for the products but they were not available. Some of the pharmacies did not even know what I was talking about.

A friend referred me to a supermarket where I got some products but it happened to be the wrong type and size for the patient. Eventually, we had to wait for almost ten days for the products to be ordered from abroad.

This experienced must have jolted you into action…

Yes it did. It actually got me thinking. I decided to approach a Swedish company that was famous for incontinence products to be their local agent. One thing led to the other and now my company Mega Importers are the major partners with the company in our region.

For starters, what is incontinence?

Incontinence is a term that describes any accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel.

It is a widespread condition that ranges in severity from ‘just a small leak’ to complete loss of bladder or bowel control.

It is triggered by advancement in age, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, prostrate issues in men.

How serious is the problem in Kenya?

Incontinence affects five to seven per cent of the world population. It is estimated that up to 2 million Kenyans suffer from it. Out of these, 75 per cent are women. Conservative estimate put the figure at about 10,000 Kenyans.

Majority of incontinent people are suffering in silence for many reasons among them; lack of information on the problem and solutions available, taboo associated with the problem, and lack of access to products for incontinence.

How do you manage to reach out to them?

We train caregivers in most hospitals across the country, we donate products for needy people with incontinence like fistula camps. We participate in educational campaigns in both public and with professionals including doctors, nurses and other medics.

The company team is also involved in many public social events whose aim is to break the taboo surrounding incontinence.

In all our activities, we as far as possible demonstrate the use of incontinence products to the groups.

Incontinence remains a taboo topic in Kenya and rest of Africa. How do you go about that?

I must admit it is very sad and unfortunate that we have nearly two million Kenyans who are unable to live their life to the full because of an easily treatable and manageable condition. Many of these people are in the prime of their age where they are expected to carry out many work and social activities and because of incontinence, you find they are unable. My message is that everybody including health care workers, leaders and the media should discuss this issue and encourage sufferers to seek help for this condition so that they can lead fulfilled lives.

How have your products changed the lives of women?

I am happy that many people with incontinence in Kenya have easy access to products that cover their shame. They don’t have to suffer in shame and live a miserable life.

Tell us about your educational background.

I graduated from the University of Nairobi with a degree in Pharmacy and after working in various areas of the industry, I challenged myself to be a benchmark in my areas of operation.

After gaining a lot of experience for well over ten years in an international global pharmaceutical company (ROCHE), I decided to venture into the private sector as to serve my countrymen and women.

What values and beliefs shape your work?

I always believe that a balanced life is a happy life.  I am a person who believes in giving my best to whatever task I decide to do.

This means I am always focused on the task ahead of me and will only be fulfilled once I accomplish it. I will do whatever is necessary to accomplish my goal which includes putting in more hours and resources to a course I believe in.

I’m unhappy with lazy people especially when they are part of the team I am working with.

As the director of Mega, what exactly does your job entail other than sensitisation?

I am involved in importation, warehousing and distribution of incontinence products. I organise incontinence meetings with professionals like urologists, gynaecologists, pharmacists, nurses among others.

I am also in the forefront of lobbying with the government and the private sector for inclusion of incontinence products as essential personal care products. 

Since you formed Mega Importers, what are some of your notable achievements?

Sensitising relevant stakeholders that this is a serious issue that deserves their attention. Thanks to my efforts, caregivers in most hospitals now recognise incontinence as a special medical condition. Pharmacies, supermarkets are now aware that they need to stock such products alongside sanitary pads. Actually we partner we them and supply to them our products like the Tena Lady at affordable rates.

There is also exemption of import duty by the government for incontinence care products. The Ministry of Health recognising incontinence products as part of the essential non-pharmaceutical products which hospitals can stock is also laudable.

Do you supply the adult diapers for free to some institutions?

We have given donations of Tena products to among others, Kenyatta National Hospital to help fistula patients, Nyumba ya Wazee in Kasarani, Nairobi Hospice and Joytown School for the physically challenged in Thika. At Mega Importers, we believe strongly that apart from doing business, we need to give back to humanity in a big way.


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