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Healthy Schools Program: The Start of a New Term = Exciting New Updates!

by Access Afya

September was the start of a brand new term for schools in Kenya, which means our Healthy Schools Program has been very busy lately! We now have six schools enrolled in our programs, and teachers and parents at these schools have been very supportive and enthusiastic about helping us improve student health. Healthy schools produce healthy students who will grow up to be successful community members!

Healthy Schools students practice proper hand washing technique on Global Hand Washing Day, October 15! Did you know that washing your hands with soap can reduce the prevalence of life-threatening diarrhea by more than 33%?

Healthy Schools students practice proper hand washing technique on Global Hand Washing Day, October 15! Did you know that washing your hands with soap can reduce the prevalence of life-threatening diarrhea by more than 33%?

After a human-centered design work session, the Healthy Schools Program is launching a new health care package in response to feedback from teachers and parents. Our previous package offered a comprehensive check-up, one free consultation at the Access Afya clinic, regular deworming, and health education once a week.

The new Healthy Schools Program package highlights free medications and lab tests to confirm diagnosis at our clinics when recommended by an Access Afya clinician, regular doctor’s visits during deworming sessions at schools, a health club membership, and a comprehensive check-up at the beginning of every term to screen and baseline children. In addition, we went a step further to provide extra incentive measures for parents by partnering with MicroEnsure, an insurance company that provides insurance policies targeted to low-income families and individuals. Through this partnership, we are able to offer hospital cash for students who need extended hospital stays and fire insurance for families in case their homes burn down. Fires are so common in the informal settlement neighborhoods that our students’ families live in. The fires not only affect families as a whole, but a child’s education and health suffers without a secure place to live. We’re proud of this new package and how it specifically addresses the needs expressed by families and teachers.

Dhahabu, our Healthy Schools Program Coordinator, surrounded by some of our Healthy Schools students

Dhahabu, our Healthy Schools Program Coordinator, surrounded by some of our Healthy Schools students

We’ve recently hired a new nurse to join our Healthy Schools team and we’re excited to be starting this term with renewed energy and enthusiasm to bring personalized health care to the schools in our community!

5 Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health

by Access Afya

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, and we at Access Afya want everyone to know that today and every day is the perfect day to think about your mental health. Although mental health is not talked very much about, it should be because it’s just as important as physical health! A healthy mind and well-being is equally important as a healthy body.

Here are five #AfyaTips for taking care of your mental health:

  1. Get some fresh air!

watotoSpending time outdoors and in nature has been shown to lower stress levels. According to environmental psychologist Judith Heerwagon, “there’s something about being in a natural setting that shows clear evidence of stress reduction, including physiological evidence – like lower heart rate.” Reduction in stress level and an increase in relaxation are related to simply the scent of many types of flowers (roses, lilacs, and jasmine, for example).

In addition to lowering stress, being in nature causes positive mood shifts. While the exact reason for this is unknown, leading theories say that human beings enjoy things that are inherently good for our survival. Trees are nature’s way of providing food, shade, protection, and comfort. This is why trees and other natural elements put us in a happier mood.

  1. Eat well.

Food is fuel for our bodies, and what we use as fuel impacts how our bodies – and minds – function. The types of food you eat and when you eat them can help improve your mental health.Florence window

Avoid skipping breakfast. It re-energizes your body and starts your metabolism for the day after you’ve gone without food for the entire night while you were sleeping. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can lead to exhaustion and depression. If you’re not able to have a balanced meal for breakfast, eat some fruit, yogurt, and whole grain bread or granola bars for a good start to your morning. For all of your meals, eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and unsaturated fats (olive oil, for example). Compared to people who eat lots of meat and dairy products, people who follow this kind of diet are up to 30% less likely to become depressed.

  1. Get some exercise.

Exercise helps to prevent and improve a variety of health problems, like diabetes and high blood pressure. However, regular exercise doesn’t only help your physical health – it releases good-for-you chemicals that boost your mental health too!

Being physically active helps to ease depression and anxiety by: (1) releasing feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters called endorphins and endocannabinoids) and (2) reducing immune system chemicals that may worsen depression. Exercise can also help you gain confidence, provide a way to take your mind off worries, and cope with anxiety and depression healthily, as other means of coping, such as drinking alcohol or dwelling on your problems, can lead to worsening systems.

  1. Make face-to-face connections.

It’s time to put down your cell phone and step away from the television! Studies have shown that having a social support system and staying connected with others is good for both physical and mental health. Maintaining in-person relationships may even help you live longer.

A longitudinal study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that in people aged 50 years or older, those who communicated the least with friends and family through in-person, face-to-face greetings had a higher rate of depression. Dr. Carla Perissinotto of the University of California, San Francisco, states that “this is a reminder for all of us to stay connected. The human touch and human contact cannot be replaced.”

  1. Take a break!

All work and no play isn’t a very healthy way to live! Whether it’s a half-hour lunch break during the work day or a fifteen-minute pause from your everyday tasks, it’s important to have a change of pace or change of scene to help your body be re-energized, refreshed, and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Take care of your mind, body, and spirit. You deserve happiness!


“10 Ways to Look After Your Mental Health.” Mental Health Foundation.

“Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms.” Mayo Clinic.

“Healthy Diet: Eating with Mental Health in Mind.” Mental Health America.

“Here’s Proof Going Outside Makes You Healthier.” Huffington Post.

“You Need Face-to-Face Contact for Your Mental Health.” Health Magazine.

Mental Health In Kenya: A Place For Traditional Medicine?

by Access Afya

Mental health is an often under-reported and under-recognized health issue in our world today. Much of the problem is our society’s failure to acknowledge mental health problems in loved ones and seek proper treatment for them. However, in places of the world such as Kenya, health care innovators are pursuing the unique blend of traditional and Western medicine to better serve people with mental health issues in a healthier and more culturally appropriate way than approaches of the past.

Kenya’s Mental Health Issue

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the leading cause of ill health and disability on a global scale are mental and neurological disorders. However, because of cultural taboos and stigma, many mental health cases go untreated. WHO asserts that mental health issues should in fact be part of a larger development plan since they have a big effect on a country’s economy by adversely affecting people’s abilities to care for themselves and their families.

Part of the issue surrounding mental health is the lack of medical professionals trained to help, especially in poor and under-served areas of the world. In East Africa specifically, the problem is dire. There are only 79 working psychiatrists in the East African nation – one for every 500,000 people! In 2013, there were only 25 licensed psychiatrists in Kenya.

In developing countries, seventy to eighty percent of people with a mental health problem in developing countries receive either no treatment at all, or ineffective treatment, such as treatment given by waganga, or traditional African healers.

It has been recognized in Kenya that while some waganga approach healing with well intentions and have been trained to perform customs passed down for decades in the traditional medicine community, many are in the healing business for the ulterior motive of taking advantage of Kenyan’s who will pay large amounts to have their ailments cured the traditional way.

Private psychiatrist offices that many people in the Western world are used to are just not feasible in the urban areas and informal settlements in Kenya, where most of the country’s population is concentrated, the same types of communities that our programs and clinics at Access Afya serve. Trying to imitate Western psychiatric systems is problematic, as specialists and hospitals are in such short supply. So how do we get mental health services to people who need them, especially in a country where the stigma and taboo surrounding mental health issues are resounding?

One of Access Afya's clinicians listens intently as a patient chats with him.

One of Access Afya’s clinicians listens intently as a patient chats with him. Might clinicians be able to work in harmony with traditional healers to help their patients?

A Creative Solution

One outstanding organization has begun to tackle this question by incorporating traditional medical beliefs into long-standing Western practices. They are attempting to utilize waganga to reach populations that may not wish to try Western approaches to mental health at first. Basic Needs, an international development charity focused on mental health issues, has been working with a group of Kenyan traditional medicine and faith healers for the past five years to educate them in patient protection and human rights.

Basic Needs recognizes that their approach needs to be a two-way street. They are training traditional healers how to identify mental health problems and refer patients to licensed psychiatrists, and psychiatrists in Kenya have recently begun to recognize the need for some of their patients to seek traditional help. Each party must accept that the other has a presence and necessary position in the mental health treatment of many Kenyans.

Dr. Monique Mutheru is one of Kenya’s few psychiatrists. She believes that traditional medicine is an appropriate route for some types of mental distress. Cultural beliefs surrounding mental illnesses, such as possession by spirits, can often cause psychological distress that traditional healing may best alleviate.

However, Dr. Mutheru emphasizes cooperation between Western medical practitioners and waganga. She says, “The idea is to work together, to work as a team.”

Dr. Daphne Ngunjiri, Access Afya’s Medical Director, recalls a case at one of Access Afya’s micro-clinics during which the patient, a young girl, had been suffering from a septic (severely infected) leg wound, and Access Afya’s clinicians found out about her case when her brother visited the Access Afya pharmacy looking for pain medication. The family was having her leg wound treated using herbal medications for months with no signs of improvement. At Access Afya, clinicians recognized the problem was serious and referred her to a government hospital where she was diagnosed with cancer.

This unfortunate incident, Dr. Ngunjiri says, highlights that “patients need to feel comfortable to share all additional measures they are taking…[to] help doctors assess the benefits and risks and ensure patients are making informed decisions.” If doctors and health care workers do not acknowledge that traditional healers are still very active in our communities today, patients may not feel comfortable reporting any traditional healing techniques they may be simultaneously using.

International psychiatrists and experts on cultural psychiatry are agreeing that the most effective approach to health issues, especially mental health issues, may be to incorporate cultural beliefs and traditional medicine. Dr. Miscol Ascoli, cultural psychiatrist at the Newham Centre for Mental Health in East London, says, “I think we have to consider that in a globalized world explanatory models are sometimes multiple. It’s not like you either believe in spirits or you believe in mental illness. Sometimes you believe in both.”

This past Monday, August 31st, was African Traditional Medicine Day, and what better way to celebrate long-standing medical traditions in Africa than acknowledging that proper training of traditional healer may be able to bridge the needs gap for mental health in Kenya?


Access Afya’s Dental Partnership: Healthy Schools, Healthy Smiles

by Access Afya

Access Afya is partnering with the St. Francis Community Hospital to make dental care more accessible to our community. We started in March, targeting our Healthy Schools children.

The need for dental care

According to World Health ‘Organization (WHO) statistics, tooth decay is the single most chronic condition-affecting children today, especially with 60–90% of school children having dental cavities or decaying teeth.  With fewer than 1,000 dentists serving the 44 million people of Kenya, this is an important medical issue that needs attention.

The gap in dental care became evident to us when over 20% of the children screened in our Healthy Schools programs were found to have dental issues.

“Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood and a harbinger of health woes in later years”, says Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, a physician trained in pediatrics, preventive medicine, and public health with the Joint Medical Program of the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco. “We worry about AIDS and malaria and TB among the world’s poor, but tooth decay is so much more common, ” she says. “Unfortunately, it’s always been neglected,” even as processed and sugared foods proliferate in developing nations.

A dental inspection is underway during Access Afya's Dental Day!

A dental inspection is underway during Access Afya’s Dental Day!

“In most rural areas, people have to travel long distances to see a dentist,” says Stephen Irungu, chief dental officer at Kenya’s Ministry of Health and past president of the Rotary Club of Murang’a. “Most of the patients will go to the dental clinic only because they have pain.” Cultural norms suggest “it’s OK if your teeth fall out, if your teeth are broken. They think people are not going to die from it,” says Past District Governor Geeta Manek.

Tooth decay, and other dental problems, often stem from improper dental care. Higher awareness of dental hygiene and care may thus discourage such habits, resulting in better overall well-being.

In the informal settlements of Mukuru where we work, this is certainly something we have found to be true.  Young children’s teeth decay and rot because of poor dental health and nutrition, leading to further dental and health issues.  Our clients frequently ask us to integrate dental. “Customer experience and feedback is key to our model,” said Maggie Kiplagat, Head of HR and Talent at Access Afya,  “we listen to our patients’ needs.”

A Walk Through Mukuru

by Access Afya

70% of urban residents in Kenya live in informal settlements, where unsanitary living conditions and overpopulation lead to a high prevalence of communicable disease. Often, health care is unreliable in these areas due to inconvenience, cost, weak supply chains, unprofessionalism, and inconsistencies. We at Access Afya realize the need for first class, personalized, and dependable health care in these communities. Through our micro-clinics and other programs, we are committed to making sure our patients know what they are getting, feel noticed, and feel genuinely cared for.

Recently, some of our Access Afya team members made a short video clip while walking through Mukuru Village to explore location, directions, and place in informal spaces with no addresses. For Access Afya, it is important to have many signs throughout the twists, turns, and complicated layout of the informal settlement pointing to one of our micro-clinics, Kisii Clinic so that everyone that hears about our services knows where to get them. We invite you take a walk with us through Mukuru and get a glimpse of one of the communities that we serve!