This post originally appeared on VITAL, the blog of IntraHealth International.
While some health facilities are abuzz with health workers attending to patients at every corner, the dispensary in rural Kitui, Kenya, has only one health worker. She provides the only source of health care to a community of over 6,000 people.
Village nurse Lenah Gatwiri operates her office as a one-stop shop.
“Since I am the only health worker in the facility taking care of a big population, I have to plan properly,” she says. “I’m the records officer, the pharmacist, the nurse, and more. Thankfully, the community supports me by cleaning the facility, which provides me reassurance. When I see people get better and have hope, it keeps me going.”
Kyaango dispensary is in a remote village that lacks adequate water supply and electricity. The closest health center is 16 kilometers (or 10 miles) from the village, and Lenah refers patients there for their laboratory tests. She says most people default when they are referred for blood tests because of the cost and the distance they must travel.
This makes it difficult, Lenah says, to provide high-quality health care.
Sacrifices and Rewards
Lenah delivers about four babies every month.
“Supplies and equipment are few,” she says. “Many mothers have home births and only come to the facility if in prolonged labor. Since June, the changes in maternity and outpatient charges have sometimes forced me to dig into my own pocket and procure essential treatment medications. I do this because I am part of the community.”
Lenah keeps the dispensary open weekdays from 8am to 5pm, but she remains on call at all times in case of emergency. She has sacrificed her allotted leave of absence and has missed training sessions because she could not leave the health facility unattended.
“But I was able to attend a health record training that has helped me present reports in an orderly manner and increase data accessibility from the district level,” she says. “Such training often takes more than two days and I have to consider the challenges the community will face with the dispensary being closed.”
When I see people get better and have hope, it keeps me going.
Lenah remembers stepping into Kyaango village on her first day at work, accompanied by the district health officer. The dispensary’s gate opened for the first time and she committed to ensuring the community would have access to much-needed health care.
“My work is challenging, but also very rewarding,” she says. “My passion has been my greatest strength.”
Lenah Gatwiri is a Kenya Registered Community Health Nurse and one of the over 850 health workers under the Rapid Hire Plan, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development and led by IntraHealth International’s Capacity Kenya project. Partners include the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), Deloitte Consulting, Management Sciences for Health (MSH), and the Training Resources Group (TRG). The project endeavors to strengthen and transform human resources for health and health systems in public, private, and faith-based sectors to enhance the quality and equity of health service delivery and, ultimately, to improve health outcomes for the people of Kenya.