Back at my internship after Rural Week, I had one of the best experiences of my life. I was able to participate in a polio campaign with the Ministry of Health. This was a five-day campaign, all over Kenya but I was attached for two days, to two teams, in Kibera. The biggest slum in East Africa. The first day, I was attached to team 12. We started our long day by journeying through alleyways, homes, streets, and just about any opening we could find. Searching, and searching, and searching for children. When we encountered kids, younger than 5, we would give them a high-five to check their pinky to see if they had been vaccinated during this campaign. If not, a vaccine was administered followed by Vitamin A, a mark on their left pinky, then we were off. Looking for children anywhere and everywhere. One of the team 12 members knew what she was doing. I saw her spot a clothesline, I didn’t think much of it but she noticed there were baby-clothes on it. She knocked on every door in the area until she found the one child living in that area. The child was unvaccinated. Had she not have made the connection to the clothesline, we would have missed that house.
After checking an area, the door would be marked with a designation representing the round, team, and number of children found.
The second day, I was attached to team 8. I knew one of the team members already and this made it quite fun. While the day started in a very similar way, except it was much muddier. We trekked and trekked, but the most heart-wrenching experience was when we stumbled upon a small hallways, where we found over ten children unvaccinated. We only encountered one run-in with a father who did not want his child to be vaccinated. The Community Health Workers fought with him and eventually won. The child was vaccinated. What was heart-wrenching about this experience was we found the area from a little girl playing outside. When she saw us approach she ran inside and attempted to lock the door. She was probably only 3 or 4 years old. When we made it in the hallway we heard a moaning and screaming from the room she was in. The Community Health Workers decided they needed to see what was going on, so they forced the door open to find this small child alone with who was presumably her brother, not much older but special needs. He was locked in the house all day, with no help or contact. This was heart-wrenching but there was nothing we could do.
This entire experience was incredibly. I met tons of kids, and I can’t imagine the impact on health that we had during this campaign.
The whole time I kept thinking to myself: this is exactly like a movie. What we were doing was exactly like the videos from the early polio campaigns in India. I felt like a true public health official, and couldn’t believe I was participating in such a campaign. More of that shoe-leather public health I talked about earlier, and I loved every minute of it. This is the impact that I want to have, and this on-the-ground action is incredibly eye opening and inspiring.