Women who inspire us: International Women’s Day 2018

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, CHAI has dug into our blog archives and selected two incredible women whose stories we have previously featured. We are impressed by these women and what they have accomplished, and think you will be too.

Monica Otieno: Improving access to family planning

Monica grew up in rural western Kenya. She was a good student and dreamed about becoming a nurse, but her family couldn’t afford to pay tuition. Instead, in her early teens, she was married to a man named Isaiah.

Monica moved to Isaiah’s village and they had four children together: Moses, Steve, Seth and Caitlin. Monica and Isaiah worked hard as farmers to provide for their children. When Monica heard about an opportunity for primary school students in her community to win scholarships to attend secondary school, she decided to sit for her primary exams and win one of the coveted scholarships. Isaiah was stunned, but supportive.

At the age of 31, Monica bought an adult-sized school uniform – a green dress with a white collar – and reported to school with two of her sons, Moses and Steve. She faced derision and disbelief from others in her village. And, because of the limited family planning options available to her, she became pregnant twice, and feared she would have to give up on her education once again.

But Monica persevered. She earned her scholarship – and while the next several years were difficult as she balanced being a mother of five, then six, young children, with her studies – she finished school and today is a trained community health worker in her village.

Monica tried various family planning methods that proved ineffective. IUDs and contraceptive implants – which are more than 99 percent effective and last for up to five years – were too expensive to buy in large quantities so health centers were often stocked out, leaving women like Monica with limited options.

Read about how CHAI and our partners worked to address this issue in last year’s International Women’s Day post.

Immaculate Njoroge: A comprehensive strategy for treating childhood illnesses

Immaculate is a clinician with the Maternal and Child Health Unit at Kiambu Level 4 Hospital, an hour’s drive south of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. She has worked there for 25 years. She has a wide and inviting smile, which is an asset in this job, when trying to comfort sick children and worried parents.

On average, she sees about 100 children each day. With each child, she pulls out her phone and accesses one of the most critical tools she has available to her: an app.

The app is a digital version of the Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (IMCI) guidelines. These guidelines provide a systematic approach to child health, developed and updated by the World Health Organization. IMCI equips doctors and nurses with the skills needed to screen sick children for signs of symptoms that might indicate they have a life-threatening condition that requires immediate action.

Over the past five years, Immaculate has become a champion of this system. She first received IMCI training in 2003. In 2014, she took a refresher course that CHAI facilitated, and was identified as a potential mentor. Since then, she has become a trainer herself and was part of the team that trained 615 healthcare workers in her county of Kiambu.

Physical booklets outlining the IMCI guidelines can be difficult to find in Kenya. Based on feedback from nurses, CHAI developed the mobile app of the guidelines for the Ministry of Health. Immaculate says she uses it with every case she sees. She says she can calculate doses and identify treatments without having to leave her patients. Instead, all the information she needs is right there, in her pocket.

Immaculate and her fellow clinicians can then pass that information on to their patients, both in one-on-one sessions as well as health talks, given to caregivers as they wait to receive treatment. The health talks are Immaculate’s specialty. Each morning she picks a topic and raises her voice above the noise of the waiting room, ready to share the advice and simple interventions – from handwashing tips to recognizing diarrhea danger signs – that can save a child’s life.

Diarrhea is easy to prevent and treat. Yet it is the leading killer of children in Kenya. At Immaculate’s hospital, she and her team use the IMCI strategy to triage and quickly treat the illness. Immaculate says she witnesses “miracles” happening every day thanks to this system.

Read about how CHAI and our partners are working to transform diarrhea treatment in Kenya.