'Camel clinic' takes medical services to remote Kenya

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At the break of dawn in Maralal, Samburu County, 340 kilometres north of Nairobi, camels are being loaded with medical equipment in preparation for the day's mission.

Geographic limitations have long hindered efforts by the Kenyan government to provide health services to people in remote areas.

To mitigate this, a non-governmental organization known as Communities Health Africa Trust (CHAT) has stepped in helping to transport medication to remote areas of need using camels.

Miriam Chege is a nurse at CHAT.

"We are able to provide curative services, we are able to provide family planning services and to some extent preventive services like deworming. So generally we are able to provide quite a lot of services," she explains.

Their main mission is to assist vulnerable communities to access much needed medication.

"Not all the health facilities are able to have community units where the community as volunteers are able to identify patients and refer them to the nearest health facilities. So those are the gaps that CHAT (Communities Health Africa Trust) is able to respond to," says Chege.

According to CHAT's founders, camels are ideal as they can carry heavy loads over long distances whilst ambling through scrublands that are inaccessible via roads.

Camels are used on desert-like terrain as they have thick footpads that aid walking on sandy and rocky paths.

Their long legs also help in keeping their bodies away from surface heat while their thick eyelashes protect their eyes from sand.

The mobile clinic on hooves began 21 years ago and consists of 10 camels, a team of health workers and camel handlers who begin their daily tasks at dawn.

The medical staff on the team usually comprises of 2 family planning and HIV/ AIDS counsellors.

Once they arrive at a remote destination that they deem to be in need of medical assistance, they pitch a tent and offer their life saving services.

This takes 2 to 3 days as door-to-door mobilization is done by the members where up to 80 people can be catered for.

Most of their beneficiaries are poverty stricken and find healthcare unaffordable.

Moreover, they have to trek for long distances to find health facilities.

Peter Nguia is a clinician at CHAT says it is for this reason that the rate of STDs is extremely high.

"Women who experience sexually based violence, actually their cases are very high, because they are suffering in silence in the bush but since we initiated the CHAT camel mobile clinic, they are actually able to get these services," says Nguia.

To semi nomadic communities, the initiative is life saving as they regularly migrate in search of pasture and water.

The communities are educated about family planning and sex education on topics such as HIV/AIDS testing, counselling as well as referrals for antiretroviral.

Sex education has led to a significant decline in the number of teenage pregnancies.

According to Nguia, sexually transmitted diseases are prevalent among nomadic communities and so there is always great demand for medical interventions.

The medical staff also treats diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea.

The fact that the mobile clinics are donor-funded limits trips to 4 circuits of 2 weeks every year during which they have to fight challenges such as intense heat, dehydration, wild animals and conflict between communities.

Over a period of 10 years, the team has only lost 4 camels to sickness.

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