Working Wonders in Maua (Kenya)

May 24, 2018, 09:44 AM by Dylan Lancaster

Maua 1 Aleisha “Seriously, that trip changed my life. You’ve expanded my mind about what health is, and what is required to make it happen.” These real words from a student reflecting on her summer elective in Kenya could have come from almost any student coming through UTMB’s global health program. Students return with an expanded view of how their discipline of choice fits into a larger perspective of population-level health.

This year, three medical students join an on-going partnership between a non-governmental organization based in Kenya and UTMB to explore maternal and child health. UTMB has sent students, clinical faculty and researchers to Maua, Kenya for the past 6 years. Throughout this time students have engaged in research that has led to better understanding of interventions that empower orphan and vulnerable children, attitudes and barriers towards community take-up of immunization, voluntary counseling and testing for HIV, suicide ideation, violence against women, community- and family-causes of vulnerability for children and the pernicious effects of adverse childhood experiences. Two major interventions have emerged directly from student research projects - the development of a rescue center for street children and a family strengthening program.
Maua 2 Globally, UTMB works through local partners to conduct its research and implement interventions that are driven by this research. Within Kenya, one of those partners – Sodzo International – has followed the research endeavors of UTMB faculty and students closely. Their rescue center for street children incorporated years of research conducted by UTMB students and faculty to develop what the organization calls the 3R+P model for helping street children – Rescue, Rehabilitate, Reintegrate & Prevent. The Reintegration and Prevention stages of their intervention utilize a family strengthening approach, which is largely informed by previous UTMB-led research of an orphan empowerment program. The family strengthening program has grown rapidly from one group of 30 families in February 2017 to over 100 groups (3000+ families) in May 2018.

There is an ambitious effort between UTMB, Sodzo International, and students from UT-School of Public Health to redesign primary public health in Kenya. Sodzo International has requested technical assistance from UTMB students and faculty to define a comprehensive set of curricula that can be implemented at the community-level using a train-the-trainer model. This summer, students are helping to characterize the issues related to maternal- and child-health that should be addressed by the intervention. UTMB first-year medical students, Barry Long, Larissa Baker and Ben Kensing, join Aleisha Elliott and Kenya university students to implement formative evaluations that will guide the family strengthening program moving forward. Aleisha Elliott, a UT-School of Public Health doctoral candidate, is working on her PhD dissertation in a joint project between UTMB and Sodzo International. Aleisha is facilitating the research implemented by UTMB students and research staff. Meredith Vinez is a public health student at UT-School of Public Health with a background in maternal and child health education, and will lead the implementation development and pilot testing this summer. Meredith, not pictured, arrives in June 2018. UTMB faculty involved directly in this project include Drs. Philip Keiser, Michael Goodman, Lauren Raimer-Goodman, Hani Serag and Ben Raimer. Dr. Goodman, a public health researcher, serves as the Principal Investigator for most of the projects. Dr. Raimer-Goodman, a pediatrician in UTMB’s Friendwood clinic, oversees the medical training for students during the summer.
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In the past 4 years, UTMB students and faculty have published more than 25 peer-reviewed manuscripts to develop our understanding of community, family, and clinical factors in the population around Maua, Kenya. These projects have led to 2 NIH grant applications, with many more to come soon. Students appreciate being mentored in a productive, scholarly, and applied environment. The surrounding community and institutional partners benefit from student research in very tangible ways. Patients and populations served by students who come through will benefit from being served by physicians with strong training in interprofessional and population-centered research and service.

UTMB’s commitment to global health fits closely with our commitments to interprofessional education and population health. Students in global health experiences learn first hand how infectious diseases, social and economic determinants, clinical service, community dynamics, institutional partnerships and health policies interact. Our commitment to global health is not only good for student experiences, it also serves our own population by making better health leaders of tomorrow.  

Written by Dr. Michael Goodman