By LAURA TESTER
Deep in a remote area of Kenya, an outbreak of anthrax hit a community hard in the fall of 2015.
As Barb Wade recalled, at least one child died from the bacterial infection transmitted by animals including cows.
Shortly after the outbreak occurred, Barb, a wildlife biologist, and husband Len Wade, a family physician with 30 years’ experience, were training Kenyan health workers on how to research about anthrax through computer tablets.
The couple from Vulcan, Alta., is leading A Better World Canada’s Tablet Project — a program where Kenyan rural health workers are learning about diseases, injury care and medical use through this mobile technology.
Since their first volunteer trip to Kenya in November 2010, the Wades realized that while Kenyan medical workers are strong in training, they lacked timely medical information at their fingertips.
“They’re all really bright people and great clinical officers and nurses, but they don’t have the (Internet) access that people in North America would have,” said Barb.
The Tablet Project began in 2014 with smartphones being handed out to five staff working in clinics where the Internet is lacking. The health workers’ desire to show videos to patients led to tablets being introduced. Last fall, A Better World trained 25 medical staff in Kenya.
Each participant paid C$100 for a tablet — something they readily wanted to do.
Demand for this training was high.
Nurses, clinical health workers and HIV staff in the Maasai Mara region, for instance, lack access to physicians or large hospitals. According to the CIA World Factbook on Kenya, there were 0.2 physicians per 1,000 people in 2013 and 1.4 hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2010.
“In the whole Narok County of two million people (in southwestern Kenya), there are nine doctors,” said Barb.
Barb gathers the online medical information and then passes it on to Len and several others so they can vet the information before it’s entered into the computer tablet.
Len, along with paramedic Cathy Wright, of Red Deer, Alta., then teach on trauma and other medical topics while participants follow the powerpoint presentations on their tablets. All information is downloaded so it’s not Internet-dependent.
Each tablet contains about 150 videos, various apps like one from Médicins San Frontiéres (Doctors without Borders), instructor presentations as well as references retrieved from websites like Medscape.
Tablet users are learning how to problem solve effectively and that bodes well for their patients.
Case in point, the anthrax outbreak.
“Everyone in the group got information (about anthrax from the tablet) and came up with a solution,” said Barb. “Len found it was a great way to teach because it was teaching the participants how to problem solve.”
Practising in a small town, Len can sympathize with health workers in rural Kenya. He too must face isolation, lack of resources and being the only person dealing with a situation.
He is pleased to see the Tablet Project offering medical staff key information when there’s so few resources.
A Better World aspires to help improve rural clinics’ working environments through education, resources like tablets, as well as developing a sense of community.
The teaching team hopes to teach a number of clinical officers and cultivate a culture of excellence, particularly in clinics within the Maasai Mara.
Teaching sessions give opportunities for clinical officers and nurses to meet and discuss cases and strategies.
“Our goal is to have 15 to 20 key health professionals who will set a standard of care for their clinics, even if they move from clinic to clinic which is typical,” said Barb. “Eventually they will share their knowledge with new and younger medics, and teach the curriculum themselves— and our work will be done!”
A Better World’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for clinical officers and nurses to stay in their own communities since they’re the ones who have the expertise to care for their own people, Len added.
Barb is now reviewing the program and keeps in regular touch with the tablet users.
“The tablets are very rewarding because it’s very easy to see that they’re effective,” she added.
A Better World’s basic curriculum focuses on trauma, obstetrics, maternal care and pediatrics. Other components, including disabilities and dental care, could be included with other potential volunteers.
“If a medical professional expressed interest to come on a medical trip, we could work with them on building a course,” said Barb.
Medical professionals can make a huge difference in the lives of their Kenyan counterparts, she added.
Access to continuing medical education is important in Kenya as well, but there are greater challenges such as distance and cost.
“Helping the ABW teaching team is a way of sharing medical expertise in a very concrete and rewarding way,” said Barb.
The Wades have discovered so many rewards by volunteering with A Better World.
After being a physician for 30 years, Len said it’s a way of paying it forward and to thank the mentors who trained him as a young doctor. It’s also a way to help the Maasai people receive good medical care, he added.
“We are so lucky here in Canada, and our prosperity is not just due to our hard work,” said Barb. “We work with very hard-working, intelligent people in Kenya, who need some help accessing resources that we take for granted.”
By helping out in this way, the Wades believe they are addressing in a small way the inequities of the world. With dedicated volunteers like these, A Better World will make a vital impact in Kenya’s health-care system.