A long walk to medical attention – Turkana, Kenya

Areron Lotukoi (in a mask) palpates Ataba Lodung Samal who is seven months pregnant, in the manyatta, in Lokipoto, Turkana Kenya, on August 10, 2021./Gabriel Rotich/CGTN Africa

I am on my way to a health facility that is over 86 kilometers away from Kakuma Town, in Turkana County, Kenya.

In this facility, the Lokipoto Dispensary, apart from the normal stone buildings, they have a maternal shelter built in the structure of a manyatta, (a semi permanent dwelling made of mud and cowdung.)

I can’t wait to see it!

But the journey is long, and tedious. The road, a murram road, (made of gravelly lateritic material), doesn’t improve the situation. My cream top is slowly changing color to brown, not to mention my hair, or eyebrows, I digress.

Our driver keeps insisting if it rains, then there’s no way we’ll travel back to Kakuma.  I’m getting scared, but he’s not exaggerating, I can see it myself.

At around 2.30 pm, we get to Lokipoto village, the chief’s office is the first thing you see, then some households, villagers, children are standing alongside the road amused by our 4×4 vehicle, followed by the other 4×4 belonging to the Turkana County Government officials who will be showing us around.

We get to the dispensary, quite small, but enough, and my eyes see it, The Manyatta!

The photo shows a manyatta, (a semi permanent dwelling made of mud and cowdung,) in Lokipoto, Turkana Kenya, on August 10, 2021. It is mostly used by pregnant and lactating women./Gabriel Rotich/CGTN Africa

My feet are swollen due to the long distance we covered but I quickly make my way to the shelter, luckily for us, we find 28-year-old Ataba Lodung Samal who is seven months pregnant.

She is in pain, she looks like it, next to her is Areron Lotukoi palpating her. She doesn’t know how old she is but she has been a midwife for as long as she can remember, she is now known as a Supporting mother, thanks to the training she got from the county government to better her skills.

The palpation looks painful, but what has to be done, needs to be done.

Areron Lotukoi (in a mask) palpates Ataba Lodung Samal who is seven months pregnant, in the manyatta, in Lokipoto, Turkana Kenya, on August 10, 2021./Gabriel Rotich/CGTN Africa

“In the days when we could not come to hospitals, I used to try my best to help women deliver, for the cases that were beyond me, I could leave them to God,” Lotukoi tells us.

Fortunately for her, no one ever died in her hands, she also told us that there are days she still helps women deliver at home, those with zero complications, but brings them to the dispensary for registration.

At this point I’m wondering what will happen if Ataba needs special medical attention…how will she get to Kakuma?

I pose the question to Adome Jedidah, the Patient Attendant Lokipoto Dispensary, who in fact tells me that Ataba’s case is now proving to be beyond them.

“I have had to call for an ambulance, there is no other way out.” She states.

I cannot fathom how the ambulance will come all the way from Kakuma to Lokipoto, then back to Kakuma. Adome is quick to explain that she’s dealt with such cases before.

“I remember last year, there was a heavy downpour for two consecutive days, it rained in Kakuma all the way to Lokipoto, from morning to evening, a child was brought to us with breathing complications, after several tests, the child tested positive for malaria, that day we tried our best and the child even had to spend the night here, even though we do not have the appropriate facilities or equipment for that…” Adome narrated.

“The following day, the child’s condition deteriorated, we had to come up with a plan B, call for an ambulance from Kakuma, but it could not get here due to the bad road, so we had to use my colleague’s motorcycle, at some point the mother could carry the child on her back, as I helped push the motorcycle through the mud until we got to where the ambulance was.”

Unbelievable! Fortunately, they got to the hospital and the child was attended to.

Such is what Adome has to deal with sometimes, I told her hers is a calling, not a job. On a normal day, she will attend to as many as 50-60 adult patients, the children are uncountable.

By the time I get a sit down with the Chief officer for Health and Sanitation in Turkana County, Mr. Augustine Lokwang, I already know what to ask, but his response is simple.

“We expect the facility, the dispensary will stabilize the patient, there will also be an on board nurse who will manage the patient between Lokipoto and Kakuma.”

A local dispensary in Lokipoto, Turkana Kenya./Gabriel Rotich/CGTN Africa

He further tells us that things are now better, as before, “women, children and the elderly were traveling for 55 kilometers to get health care services, but today, we are talking of about 15 kilometers to be able to access medical services in the county.”

That’s progress, a lot more still needs to be done though.

Dr. Gilchrist Lokoel, the Director of Medical Services Turkana County however tells us that the number of maternal mortalities has significantly reduced.

“Before devolution, we used to record deaths of 74 infants per 1,000 live births, with the increased health facilities, this number reduced to 66/1000 live births…” Dr. Gilchrist explains.

“We also conducted a study and realized that malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoeal related diseases were the main causes of deaths among children under five, we then trained Community Health Volunteers to test for certain diseases and this number has reduced from 117/1000 to 72/1000.”

Turkana with a population of 1 million now has a total of 228 health facilities, and they expect another 15 by October 2021.

There’s definitely a ray of hope, but my hope is that the next time I visit Turkana county, specifically Lokipoto village, I will see an improvement in the facilities, even if it’s the manyatta shelters.

After this, I will truly not take even the slightest of things like being able to access a health care facility whenever I want to for granted.