In just three weeks, a team of Israeli aid workers completed construction of a hospital emergency room - the only facility of its kind - in Kisumu, Kenya.
By Avigayil Kadesh
Sick and injured Kenyans can receive quality emergency care at Kisumu East District Hospital in Kenya’s third-largest city, now that a team of 10 Israeli engineers has completed construction of the hospital’s first, fully-equipped emergency room.
Planned and built under the auspices of MASHAV (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Agency for International Development Cooperation), the ER will provide not only regional emergency treatment, but also regional medical training.
"There is no other such facility in a region of six million people,” says MASHAV director Haim Divon, who traveled to the East African republic at the beginning of November for a ceremony to inaugurate the ER.
Beyond building the state-of-the-art facility and donating all necessary supplies, MASHAV sent specialists to train local medical professionals in emergency medicine to raise the level of care available in the city and its periphery.
Striving to be relevant and effective
The project was initiated by MASHAV’s medical adviser, Dr. Yossi Baratz, who served as the agency’s representative in Kenya from 2003 to 2006. Baratz is in charge of MASHAV’s numerous public health missions, the newest of which include setting up a dialysis center in Micronesia and establishing an intensive care unit in Haiti.
The work was carried out - in a record three weeks’ time - by engineering and medical teams from Clalit Health Services, the largest health organization in Israel and one of the most progressive public health associations in the world. MASHAV invested about a quarter of a million dollars, not including ongoing support and capacity building.
Divon says that Israel and Kenya have enjoyed close and friendly relations since the 1950s, when MASHAV set up ophthalmology "camps" there as one of its first endeavors. "We have a special sentiment for Kenya because it was one of the first countries we established diplomatic relations with," he recalls.
"We are always asking ourselves where we can be relevant and effective, given our modest budget; where do we have the expertise in areas relevant to the challenges they face." The country of 40 million has a sizeable Jewish community and is also a popular tourist destination for Israelis.
Model to be replicated in Uganda and Tanzania
MASHAV’s efforts in Kenya are focused mainly on food security, health, education and empowerment of women. "We also work to strengthen strategic planning in municipalities including Kisumu, which is our number one partner city in the world," Divon adds. "It’s not sufficient to have good policies coming from the capital if the municipalities don’t have the capacity to implement the programs."
The model being established in Kisumu will likely be introduced in other cities along picturesque Lake Victoria, he notes, not only in Kenya but also in Uganda and Tanzania.
Kisumu is best known today as the region encompassing the village where US President Barack Obama’s father was born. But long before most people had ever heard of this area, Israel was helping to improve its citizens’ quality of life.
During a visit last year from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, local officials expressed their interest in upgrading the services of the district hospital. Baratz determined that an ER and provision of emergency medical training would be a good starting point.
Israel and Germany partner for Africa
Currently, the unit can hold about a dozen patients, although MASHAV plans to expand it - possibly with the cooperation of Germany, which already has joint programs with MASHAV in Ethiopia and Ghana.
"It is certainly noteworthy that the Jewish people and Germany are joining hands to assist Africa," says Divon. "The head of the German aid program told me he would like to add some other units [to the Kisumu hospital], perhaps an intensive care or neonatal unit, to strengthen the capacity of Kenya to provide minimal health services."
Divon, who has visited Kenya many times in an official capacity, promises that MASHAV will next help to train emergency medical responders. "When Kenya’s minister of health was in Israel recently, he expressed interest in our Magen David Adom system, [Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross]. In Kenya, they don’t have adequate medical knowledge or facilities to treat victims at the site of accidents, so ambulances are mainly just for transport. In our system, the ambulance squad is already administering emergency care and this is a concept they want to adopt," he explains.
Divon cites "respect and appreciation," as the benefit Israel derives from such projects. "The mayor, the minister of health and all the other officials pour praise on us and salute Israel and our embassy. This opens doors. When our ambassador calls, they will pick up the phone because they see him as relevant to the development of Kenya. That is the immediate dividend we receive."