Karin Håkansson, Rotary Doctors Sweden
– You won’t forget us, will you, Sir? A small boy in an African village waved goodbye to the Swedish journalist Lars Braw. The boy had learnt a couple of words in English, and added “Sir” to be polite. Lars Braw travelled around Africa and wrote articles from different countries on the continent. The question from that boy though meant that Lars, who was a Rotarian, wanted to do more, something concrete, so he started the Foundation Rotary Doctors Sweden in 1988.
Since then Rotary Doctors Sweden has sent out doctors on short term missions to mainly Kenya with the tasks to support and improve the health services in the country. In mid -90s’ missions of dentists were added as well as projects to provide clean water and promote health education. As Kenya has developed as a country Rotary Doctors’ activities have changed geographical focus into marginalized areas where health needs are still huge. To combine preventive health activities with curative health has also become more important in recent years. And to be able to achieve sustainable improvement of health Rotary Doctors Sweden cooperates with the local population, community health committees and health volunteers, as well as with the local health authorities.
This last year of the covid-19 pandemic has though been different. No doctors or dentists have been able to travel to Kenya due to all restrictions. Together with Rotary Doctors Sweden’s cooperation partner in Kenya, the NGO Community Nursing Services, the foundation has still been able to contribute to uphold the health system during this crisis. Even if the pandemic has not hit Kenya as hard as some other countries in the world, the economic consequences, rumours about the pandemic, a bigger burden on health staff and the fact that the schools have been closed have affected people’s health.
The main activity during this last year has been “jeeplines” with Kenyan nurses setting up mobile clinics in different areas providing child vaccination, growth monitoring of children, antenatal care och family planning. The ability to travel to remote villages means that women and children not having the opportunity or not daring to go the health dispensaries can receive services. In the beginning of the pandemic Rotary Doctors Sweden also trained several hundreds of Community Health Volunteers regarding covid-19, how it spreads, preventive measure to take and what to do when someone in the community gets sick. Each volunteer has been assigned to inform and support 100 household to act correctly during the pandemic. Several water projects, building of wells or protected springs, and a latrine project have also been implemented.
Right now the Foundation is preparing for to send out Swedish doctors again. The approach will be to work at small sub-county hospitals and health centres where Kenyan doctors are lacking. They will support staff, clinical officers and nurses, to improve routines and structures. In October an assessment is planned to concretize aims and working methods.
Rotary Doctors Sweden is dependent on donations from Rotary Clubs in Sweden for funding the activities. Many clubs support doctors and dentist missions, while other support their “own club projects” such as construction of a well or a training for Community Health Volunteers. This year has though been a challenge, even if many clubs are generous, fewer activities during covid-19 has meant less fundraising in the clubs. Hopefully things will gradually return to normal.