CIW 2011 Speakers Transforming Health Care

Lwala is transforming health care in Kenya.

What happens when two brothers in a rural village in Kenya dream of bringing a health clinic to their community?

The result – as brothers Milton and Fred Ochieng shared as 2011 Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) speakers – is Lwala Community Alliance, a nonprofit that has transformed health care in the village of Lwala. The organization was recently featured in a documentary short filmthat Apple released as part of a new campaign. The film shows how Apple customers worldwide are using apps to make a difference in communities, including Lwala’s innovative use of iPads and the medical app Skyscape to enroll pregnant women in maternal and child health care programs.
Last week the Ochieng brothers and James Nardella, executive director of Lwala Community Alliance, visited the CIW office to catch us up on all they’ve done since CIW 2011 and share some stories on how the alliance began.
Growing up in Lwala, 31-year-old Milton and 32-year-old Fred Ochieng experienced firsthand the havoc that poor health care was wreaking on their community. The life expectancy of newborn Kenyans hovered just above 55 years, and the brothers said about one in five people in Lwala suffers from AIDS. 
While studying to be doctors in the U.S., the Ochieng brothers lost both their parents to HIV.
Lwala’s James Nardella and Drs. Milton and Fred Ochieng
They said they knew they had to do something. So the brothers, who both earned medical degrees, founded Lwala Community Alliance in 2007 and built their first clinic in Lwala. 
That clinic has grown to become a full-fledged community hospital that now has about 2,800 patient visits each month.
“To run into babies born in breech running around two, three years later, going to school – there’s nothing that you can replace that with,” Milton said.
The organization also launched a “Safe Babies” initiative last year, training 80 local women as community health workers to connect pregnant women with the hospital for health care. It also equipped nurses with motorcycles to reach the women in Lwala’s surrounding villages.
As a result, 95 percent of the pregnant women in the village now deliver their children at a facility with a skilled nurse. That number was just 26 percent in 2010.
With new technology, the community health workers now explain what a floppy baby is with iPads instead of hand-drawn charts and stuffed animals. But 36-year-old Nardella said the core idea remains the same: neighborliness.
“The reason that their friends and neighbors and cousins are responding to them is not because Milton and Fred are both doctors,” he said. “It’s because their friends and neighbors are saying, ‘You know what, I’ll walk with you. We’re all delivering in a health facility.’”
The program empowers the health workers, too, Nardella said. While only half of the women workers graduated 8thgrade, the program gives them an opportunity to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit.
“You go from being a housewife who participates in subsistence farming, almost like a peasant lifestyle, to being enrolled in a team, showing up and coming to trainings, or put into meetings, having a cell phones, having due dates,” he said. “Your team is accomplishing something.”
Though their new initiative is booming, the team faces one challenge. With the number of patient visits doubling during the past two years, the community hospital they built is in danger of overcrowding. The team does not want revisit its early years, when women had to deliver their babies in the kitchen because there just wasn’t enough room for everyone.
“In some ways, we’ve succeeded beyond what we can afford,” Nardella said. 
His hope? Some neighborliness among CIW partners. 
Back in 2011, Glen Tullman, the CEO of health care IT company AllScripts and a CIW speaker, introduced Milton and Fred Ochieng to CIW. He also connected the brothers with Health eVillages, the nonprofit arm of Skyscape, which provides the app they now use.
Nardella said he hopes more such collaboration will continue to grow from the co-learning environment at CIW. Lwala is both looking for corporate sponsors and for anyone interested in joining the larger conversation on health care in Africa.
“When you keep neighborly relations going, they lead to a lot of good,” he said.
To learn more about Lwala, get involved or donate, check out  
Written by: Jia You
Photography by: Jia You
Kenya photo: Lwala

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