Driven to help others like me

Dr Mark Riongoita, doctor in charge of kala azar in Kacheliba Sub-county Hospital. Kala azar is a neglected disease in the community. (PHOTO: BRIGID CHEMWENO/ STANDARD)

More than two decades ago, I almost lost my life after suffering from meningitis. I was a young student having just sat for my KCPE and looking forward to join secondary school.

The pains started out like a headache but I soon became seriously ill and could not walk.

Good Samaritans hired a tractor, the only available means of transport, to take me to Amudab Hospital in Uganda, which at 20 kilometres away was the nearest health centre.

The journey to the hospital took a whole day due to the poor state of the road, and a delay at the Kenya-Uganda border. I lost consciousness at some point and someone was sent to inform my parents of my state while those I was with thought I had died.

I ended up staying at the hospital for two weeks and the only thought that consumed my mind even then is the desire I  had to advance my life and help my community.

I had just received an admission letter to join Kapenguria Boys High School, more than 100 kilometres from home, and I was looking forward to this next phase of my life even though I had no idea how my peasant parents would pay for my school fees.

Once I recovered, I went back home where I ended up staying for one year and three months until help came my way.

I was cultivating my father’s land when my former primary school teachers visited our home. They had received guests from World Vision who were interested in sponsoring students to secondary school and aware of my situation, they brought them to our home.

They pledged to see my through high school and I joined Chepkorniswo Boys’ Secondary School, a boarding school 120 kilometres away.

Once school closed or opened, I would walk this long stretch crossing several rivers. It was a three day journey and the only thing I had to eat was sugarcane, supplemented with cassava. The journey would take longer, during the rainy season, when I’d have to wait for flooded rivers to subside.

After my secondary education, I joined Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) in Nakuru and completed my studies in September 2000.

All along, the desire I had to serve my people and spare them the long distance treks to seek medication remained constant.

It would be a few years later that I found myself working at the Kacheliba sub-district hospital attached to the Kala-azar treatment centre. Soon after my studies at KMTC, I worked as an intern at Kitale sub-county hospital before I was employed by the Kenya National AIDS and STI Control Programme (Nascop) at Kapenguria.

It was while working with Nascop that I found out that a Kala-azar treatment centre would be established in West Pokot and I was among qualified medics who submitted their applications.

I was invited for an interview in Amudab Uganda where I later received three months training on Kala-azar before being deployed to Kimalel Health Centre in Baringo County where I worked for a year before I came to Kacheliba sub-district hospital.

It has been gratifying serving my people in this way and I attend to hundreds of patients suffering from this ailment.

I also go out of my way to conduct sensitisation campaigns in the villages. The locals have now gained confidence in me because I can explain to them the dangers of going to traditional medicine men instead of seeking treatment in the medical facility.

The treatment centre is sponsored by Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative a non-profit drug research and development (R&D) organisation that is developing new treatments for neglected diseases.

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meningitisDrugs for Neglected Diseases InitiativeNational AIDS and STI Control Programme (Nascop)