Hujambo! My name is Dorothy Ochieng and I am a Global Health Master’s in Public Health student from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. I have been in Shirati, Tanzania since May 22, 2015. I was first introduced to the Maji Safi Group (MSG) leadership team, Max Perel-Slater, Bruce Pelz, and Emily Bull, by Maria Kenney, an alumni of the Brown School and former practicum student with MSG. MSG is a disease prevention and health promotion organization located in the rural fishing and agricultural town of Shirati, close to the border of Tanzania and Kenya. They employ local Community Health Workers to educate the community about proper water treatment and prevention of common water-related diseases through different interactive programs.
Upon meeting with Max and Emily late last year, I was informed that MSG has been interested in performing health screenings to detect and treat common water-related diseases that affect current program participants, such as bilharzia, intestinal worms, amoeba, malaria, typhoid, and urinary tract infections. The screenings will allow MSG to track whether their health education leads to a reduction in disease rates within their target populations. Since certain program participants have received health education pertaining to water sanitation and prevention of water-related diseases and others have not, the comparison of the disease rates between the two groups will be very useful in guiding future MSG educational programs. The goal of the MSG health screenings will be to screen and treat current and future Maji Safi Group program participants for the above mentioned water-related diseases. With my nursing background, I thought this project would be a very interesting experience and I jumped on board!
Since my arrival here, we have hit the ground running with implementing the health screenings. In fact, on my second day of my practicum experience in Shirati, Max and I met with the Malaria Hygiene and Sanitation Project in the nearby town of Musoma (nearby as in a two hour drive away) to learn the steps we would need to take to create and run successful health screenings. We were able to meet with the leaders of the organization and received helpful information about how to conduct well-planned and effective screenings. This advice included which authorities to contact, how to involve the government, and how to deal with budgeting issues. We were also able to shadow their team the following day to see them in action performing health screenings at a school located in rural Musoma.
Currently, we are still in the planning phase for the health screenings. Letters to the District Medical and Education Officers have been sent informing and requesting assistance with the health screenings. We have heard back from both authorities which are overwhelmingly on board with the screenings. We have also moved forward with speaking with village leaders and headmasters of schools, purchasing medications, training the Community Health Workers, figuring out logistical issues, and so much more!
Oh, and did I mention we intend to screen about 4,600 individuals? All but about 384 will be children and adults that already participate in various MSG programs such as the Afterschool, Female Hygiene, and Singing and Dance Programs. It will be interesting to compare results from the existing program participants with the new individuals; this will allow us to learn the effectiveness of our education programs.
In addition to working on the health screenings, I get to interact daily with various MSG programs that the Community Health Workers are involved with, such as attending the Disease Prevention Center at the hospital, the Afterschool Program, Home Visit Program, store visits, and the Female Hygiene Program. I have seen how each of these programs educate the Shirati community about the importance of practicing good water, sanitation, and hygiene behaviors to prevent water-related diseases using creative and culturally relevant materials.
Outside of MSG, my practicum supervisor, Dr. Chirangi, is the Chief Medical Officer at the Rorya District Hospital and has been very generous in allowing me to watch interesting surgeries at the hospital! So far, I have watched simple operations such as removing a benign arm abscess, to more complicated procedures such as an emergency C-Section.
I look forward to the next several weeks as the health screenings unfold and the MSG programs progress. There is a lot of work still to be done, but the opportunity to participate in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of such a huge project is very rewarding and exciting!