Where there’s smoke there’s fire

 By RESULTS Australia’s Grassroots Engagement Manager Gina Olivieri

My partner Jeremy and I were lucky enough to visit Kenya recently, and stayed in a wonderful village called Katolo, in the country’s west, near Kisumu.

While there we had a good look around the local homes, a school or two, and the local health clinic.

I was on the lookout for opportunities to learn about health challenges. We certainly found one at the local medical clinic.

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I was shocked to see the clinic had no safe way of disposing of medical waste. The wonderful Doctor showed us the pit where medical waste is burnt, and described it as ‘humiliating’. The pit was easily accessible, and we were told local kids liked to pick through the rubbish for interesting things like the rubber caps on vaccine vials to use as erasers at school.

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Being a flood plain, the rubbish pit certainly wasn’t the best way to dispose of waste. Although it was burnt regularly, not everything burnt up completely. And being a flood plain, the pit would often fill with water, as you can see here, and the waste would be washed in to surrounding homes.

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So we decided to fund an incinerator. Here it is in progress, being built by local fundi (tradesman) named Agunga. It can be locked to keep out curious little hands, will burn at a much higher temperature to ensure the waste is burnt more thoroughly, and will keep the waste from being swept about the countryside by flood waters. If it prevents even one kid from pricking themselves on a needle, cutting themselves on a broken vaccine vial, or picking up a disease, it’ll pay for itself immediately.

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Here we are having a celebratory cup of milk with Mildred, who used to have medical waste washed into her yard. Cheers!

The experience showed us that vaccines and other medicines are just one part of a complex web – distribution of supplies, infrastructure like electricity, and being able to dispose of waste properly and myriad other factors are needed to ensure a healthy, happy village.

It really highlighted for me why partnerships such as Gavi the Vaccine Alliance is so important too. As well as negotiating lower prices for vaccines, Gavi invests a significant portion of their funds into strengthening health systems. This not only helps to ensure vaccines reach the kids that need them, but improves infrastructure, waste management and record-keeping, amongst other things, to improve health care overall. The need for this kind of investment is clear.

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