Dromahair volunteer says “hunger is still killing people” in Kenya

Anita McTernan is 19 years volunteering in Mutomo Hospital, Kenya

Fiona Heavey


Fiona Heavey

Dromahair volunteer says  “hunger is still killing people” in Kenya

Anita McTernan opening boxes of presents for local children to enjoy.

Anita McTernan from Dromahair has been 19 years volunteering in Mutomo Hospital in Kenya. Home for a holiday to stay with her sister and visit family and friends, she spoke to the Leitrim Observer about the challenges she meets daily due to poverty and hunger.

Anita McTernan originally from Dromahair

While at home Anita is meeting support groups that provide finance for the most important and basic need of the people she serves: food.
In almost two decades working in the area, Anita has seen huge developments with electricity, water and technology but sadly, “for the very poor, it has not changed.”

Mutomo is a small town (approx 2,000 inhabitants) in southeast Kenya, located 250km from Nairobi. The hospital was founded in 1962 by the Sisters of Mercy from Ireland.
The area is “semi desert” and vegetation is dependent on if there is enough rain during the rainy season and according to Anita after years of drought they were hit with heavy rain this year which “washed away any crops.”
Farmers grow staple food of maize, beans and some sorghum. Some might have goats, chickens and cows. Anita said the extreme weather adds to the vicious circle of famine and hunger. She said the people depend on crops first for food and secondly for much needed cash.

The hospital is private and receives no money from the state. It is dependent on donations. Through the Ministry of Health it received vaccines, tests and medications against HIV, STDs and TB. But any other care, tests and treatments are paid for by the patients. Prices are low even by Kenyan standards, but for the population it is still difficult to bear those costs. The hospital has a take up area of 100,000 people, half of those are under the age of 15.
Anita McTernan is a leader of the AIDs information programme. There are very few families who have not experienced AIDs. Yet the stigma of the disease is colossal and it means that there is a lot of denial, secrecy and reluctance to seek help.
The money received from Ireland goes towards Anita’s HIV programme, but the money is not used for medication, the money is simply used for food.

The hospital must provide basic nutrition for children and their siblings on the HIV programme. Anita explains, the HIV drugs “are very strong and would not work unless the children are fed, but we can’t just feed them, we also provide food for their siblings.”
Otherwise the food given to the children on the programme would be shared amongst the family and not given directly to the child that needs it.
So basic nutrition is what Anita spends the most amount of money on. Each month Anita’s programme feeds 300 children and this costs €950 a month.

The food they provide includes beans, which are a second class protein, rice, polish meal, ground maze and corn. The children are also given milk and a boiled egg when they attend the clinic.
Anita said she and the hospital are so grateful to the money their receive. HIV is still the major epidemic in Kenya, but nowadays with medication, the disease can be controlled “it is not killing as many people.”
Anita said when she just arrived in Mutomo, “we used to have to send home children to die once they tested positive for HIV.” But the drugs now not only keep the children alive, but allow them the opportunity to fully live.
Anita is a coordinator of three important programmes, the HIV clinic, Health Hearts programme and the new Cervical cancer screening programme.

Mutomo Hospital

But “no day is the same” so some days Anita, who is a trained nurse will need to attend emergencies or help out in overcrowded clinic.
Anita who is staying with her sister in Dromahair tries to get home once a year.
In her 19 years a lot has changed in Mutomo, the hospital now has a bore hole for water and electricity. She said the Chinese are finally making a road to the hospital, and the town has been earmarked for a branch of the region’s university, which should bring some more industry.

The hospital still write up their notes on paper, but they can order supplies online.
And yet, “In this day and age, people are still dying of hunger.” She said they had people who were fully in control of their HIV die of hunger this year. Hunger and malnutrition makes people susceptible to infections such as TB and pneumonia.
They have a 67% uptake on vaccinations for children, but she said it is hard to convince people to vaccinate their healthy babies. She said education has still a long way to go.

Anita says she hopes to keep returning to her work in Mutomo while she can. Anita said she is past the Irish retirement age, so she has no idea what else she could do. She said the role is fulfilling and it is “great to see my work make a difference.”
If you want to donate to the worthy charity visit mutomohospital.or.ke or use these details:
Account No. 44759780 Bank of Ireland, Cavan. NSC 903293
IBAN No. IE 72 BOFI 9032 9344 7597 80.