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Physicians, volunteers climb Mount Kenya to raise funds for new chronic disease care facility

Mar. 20, 2014

IU and Moi University physicians recently joined several public figures and other volunteers to scale the second highest peak in Africa to support a new chronic disease care facility.

Mount Kenya Climb

Fifteen members of the chronic disease care facility fundraiser team display the IU and Moi University flags atop Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa.

The facility will be in Eldoret, Kenya, and be part of the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare. AMPATH is a partnership between Moi University School of Medicine, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and a consortium of North American academic health centers led by the IU School of Medicine aimed at improving health care in the country.

The four-day climb begun Feb. 28 raised $10,000 for the new facility, which will be the first specifically built to advance the treatment and care of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental illness in Eldoret. The facility is a sign of AMPATH's growing focus on the fight against chronic conditions beyond HIV/AIDS.

"The problem of lack of access to cancer screening, appropriate diagnostics and treatment in Kenya is huge," said Chite Asirwa, M.D., a visiting assistant professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine and co-director of oncology and hematology at AMPATH, who participated in the climb. "We only have two public tertiary hospitals in Kenya that provide some form of cancer care to the entire population of 40 million citizens. The Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital alone has a catchment population of 18 million."

Many diseases that are considered chronic conditions in the developed world are seen as a death sentence in countries such as Kenya, where many people aren't able to access needed care due to the lack of access to proper facilities and experts, said Dr. Asirwa, a graduate of the internal medicine residency program and oncology fellowship at the IU Medical Center.

The entire country of Kenya has only 10 oncologists, including Dr. Asirwa, most of whom are in the capital city of Nairobi, 160 miles from Eldoret.

"The Kenyan Ministry of Health estimates that we should be seeing 80,000 cancer patients a year, and cancer is the third cause of death in Kenya by numbers, but we are currently attending to 20,000 cancer patients a year," he added. "Nearly 75 percent of patients present with advanced stages of cancer. We need screening services, public awareness, education and training in cancer care. Improving cancer care services is a personal mission for me."

The new building will support the same tripartite mission of AMPATH: to educate and train new oncologists and health care providers; to perform research; and to provide health care services. It will also be only the second place in all of Kenya where patients whose only hope for survival is radiation treatment will be able to receive the care they need.

The Mount Kenya fundraiser was led by Michael Greven, a Columbus, Ind.-based builder who serves as a lead contractor on the new chronic disease care facility, as well as a key member of the group that previously built the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital in Eldoret. Other climb team members included such high-profile participants as Daniel Chemno, deputy governor for Kenya's Uasin Gishu County, which includes Eldoret; John Kibosia, M.D., director of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, who hiked the first 10 kilometers (6.2 miles); and Naftali Busakhala, M.D., director of oncology at Moi University.

The highest peak in Kenya, and the second highest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya is a difficult climb, although conditions are more akin to a steep hike than a sheer cliff face, with overnight camps at key spots along the trail. The climbers’ journey took four days, with the first three and a quarter spent reaching the peak and the latter part of the fourth returning to a camp a little ways up from the base. Over the course of the climb, Dr. Asirwa said the incline grew steeper -- and the temperatures lower.

"We set off for the steepest and most challenging part of the climb at 3 a.m. so as to be at the peak to witness the sunrise," he said. "We all had our headlamps on since it was very dark, and were very heavily dressed due to the sub-zero temperatures at the peak. Not only did we get to the peak on this day, but we also covered the longest distance: 38 kilometers (23.6 miles). It was by far the most challenging part of the journey."

The majority of the $10,000 raised by climbers was contributed using a new online crowdfunding tool utilized by the IU Foundation. The climb was only the second time the tool has been deployed in an IU Foundation campaign; the first experimental rollout occurred during last year's Little 500 bicycle race in Bloomington.

Funds raised by the climbers will help furnish the new chronic disease care facility with critical materials such as exam equipment and patient amenities, such as infusion chairs. No longer will patients who require chemotherapy in Eldoret be required to sit outside the main hospital in makeshift tents due to the lack of space.

"I've been fortunate to learn and practice in the U.S., and to work and live in Kenya as well, giving me the great sense of what can be done to improve care," Dr. Asirwa said. "The absence of care in Kenya is very frustrating, but fundraisers such as ours give me renewed optimism about what could be; it doesn't always need to feel hopeless."

Additional members of the climbing party were Jennifer Hatchard and Jodi Bernstein of the University of Toronto; Liam Greven, son of Michael Greven; and Kenyans Milton Arusei, Jepchirchir Kiplagat, Raymond Kilimo, Joseph Koech, Eve Kweno and Elyne Rotich.

The new chronic disease care facility is expected to open in March 2015. Contributions to the climbers' campaign can continue to be made online

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