In the heart of Kenya’s scenic landscapes lies Elgeyo Marakwet County, a region known for its natural beauty and globally recognised marathoners – popularly known as the home of champions. This captivating region, with estimable traditions and welcoming people, offers a glimpse into the heart of Kenya – the Kerio and the Rift Valley define the home of champions. Despite the flashy picturesque views, the county faced challenges in its healthcare system, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The county health system was overwhelmed and could not meet the increasing demand for medical oxygen. This saw a number of patients struggle for their lives – including having to incur higher expenses while seeking rescue from private hospitals. Amidst these challenges, Amref Health Africa, with support from the Global Fund and working jointly with the Ministry of Health Kenya, the Council of Governor, the Kenya Coordinating Mechanism and the local leaders, emerged as a beacon of hope, initiating transformative interventions that have reshaped the healthcare ecosystem in the region ensuring that no one is left behind.
Amref Health Africa, a leading health-focused non-governmental organisation, began its work in Elgeyo Marakwet long before the pandemic struck. Through strategic collaborations with local healthcare providers and communities, Amref focused on strengthening the county’s system for primary healthcare. The organisation implemented extensive training programmes for community health promoters and health workers, bolstering the skills of healthcare professionals and ensuring that communities were well-informed about basic healthcare practices.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elgeyo Marakwet, like many other regions, faced unprecedented challenges. Amref Health Africa swiftly adapted its interventions to address the emergent needs. The organisation played a central role in equipping healthcare facilities with essential resources, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to the frontline health workers, and conducting mass awareness campaigns to curb the spread of the virus through integrated behaviour change communication.
Amref’s rapid response team, consisting of medical experts and community health workers, tirelessly worked to educate the populace about preventive measures, the importance of vaccination, the significance of adhering to safety protocols and the need to maintain a high sense of hygienic measures – washing hands with soap and running water. These efforts mitigated the pandemic’s immediate impact and created a robust foundation for future healthcare resilience.
As the county transitioned into the post-COVID-19 era, Amref Health Africa continued its commitment to bolstering Elgeyo Marakwet’s healthcare system. One of the most remarkable interventions was the introduction of the state-of-the-art 3-tone liquid oxygen tank and other accessories at the Iten County Referral Hospital. The Liquid Oxygen tank launched by HE. The Governor, Wisley Rotich and other leaders was a dream come true – speaking during the launch, the governor said the region had never had an oxygen infrastructure for the past 60 years. This negatively affected the residents forced to seek medical attention from neighbouring counties like Uasin Gishu and Nairobi. This groundbreaking initiative marked a significant milestone, ensuring a sustainable and reliable oxygen supply for patients, especially those battling severe respiratory illnesses and those who cannot afford the looming financial implications of private hospitals.
“The medicinal oxygen plant at Iten County Referral Hospital will greatly help patients who have undergone surgical operations, and those suffering from asthma, or have difficulties in breathing. Medical oxygen is a vital commodity and can save lives. As they say, water is life, but oxygen is life because the absence of oxygen can be fatal. This plant is the only one in the county and can serve almost half a million people,” said the governor.
Launching the 3-tone liquid oxygen tank at the County Referral Hospital was a game-changer in Elgeyo Marakwet’s healthcare narrative. The advanced facility ensures a continuous supply of high-quality medical oxygen, vital for patients suffering from severe, pneumonia and other respiratory conditions, and in the emergency sections and maternal and newborn units. The pipping and manifold done to the wards, up to the patient’s bedside, ensures that they receive the drug when needed without carrying oxygen cylinders, which was the norm. The oxygen tank not only saves lives but also enhances the overall efficiency of the healthcare system, enabling medical professionals to provide timely and effective treatments.
Moreover, the oxygen tank serves as a testament to the power of collaboration. Amref Health Africa worked closely with local authorities, healthcare providers, and philanthropic organisations to make this initiative a reality. Such partnerships are key to addressing complex healthcare challenges and creating sustainable solutions that endure beyond crises.
“We have reached an incredible milestone, but our work is far from over. For this oxygen infrastructure to truly serve its purpose, we must remain committed to its maintenance and efficient operation. Let us join hands and continue to work together to ensure that the benefits of this facility reach every corner of Elgeyo Marakwet County. Our partnership holds incredible potential, and nurturing it ensures no one is left behind,” said Peter Waiganjo, Venture Development Manager, Amref Health Africa in Kenya.
Amref Health Africa’s unwavering dedication and innovative interventions have strengthened Elgeyo Marakwet’s healthcare system and inspired a sense of resilience and hope within the community. The liquid oxygen tank at the Iten County Referral Hospital symbolises progress, highlighting the transformative impact that strategic interventions and collaborative efforts can achieve.
Other projects Amref Health Africa in Kenya is implementing in the county include the Uongozi wa Afya Thabiti, which aims to achieve the following objectives:
- Strengthen health systems, governance and stewardship for improved delivery of quality services.
- Improve health systems accountability for transparent, efficient, and effective delivery of services.
- Strengthen structures for evidence-based health sector policy development, implementation, and reviews.
- Strengthen strategic partnerships for coordination and management of health systems.
As Elgeyo Marakwet continues its journey toward a healthier future, the lessons learned from this experience echo far beyond its borders, serving as a lesson for other regions striving to enhance their healthcare systems and build a more resilient society. Through the remarkable work of organisations like Amref Health Africa and the Global Fund, the vision of accessible, high-quality healthcare for all becomes increasingly attainable. One community at a time!
Article co-authored by: Wekesa Noah W. – CA, Amref Health Africa and Peter Waiganjo, Venture Development Manager, Amref Health Africa in Kenya.