March 1, 2012

Forum shows teamwork vital to improving global health

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Milton Ochieng', M.D., left, and Fred Ochieng', M.D., speak about their work with the Lwala Community Alliance during last week’s Tennessee Global Health Forum at the Student Life Center. (photo by Aaron Grayum)

Forum shows teamwork vital to improving global health

Six years after opening a health center in their rural Kenyan village, Vanderbilt University Medical School graduates Milton Ochieng', M.D., and Fred Ochieng', M.D., are partnering with others to create sustainable solutions for their community.

The brothers, co-founders of the Lwala Community Alliance, gave the afternoon keynote address at this year’s Tennessee Global Health Forum.

The daylong event was hosted by the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health at the Student Life Center, and explored lessons learned by local and international humanitarian and non-governmental organizations.

In Lwala it’s estimated that one in four people are living with HIV. After losing both of their parents to AIDS, the Ochieng’ brothers were determined to realize their father’s dream of opening a hospital in the area.

“For us, this is personal,” said Milton, a gastroenterology fellow at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. “We miss our parents, and live each day trying to extend the lives of our friends and families. We want to be leaders in the transformation of our own community.”

Since the Lwala Community Health Center opened its doors in 2007, some 80,000 patients have been treated, and more than 1,000 people are currently receiving treatment for HIV in the area. In April 2011, construction on a new maternity and integrative care wing was completed, transforming the center into Lwala Community Hospital.

In addition to providing health care, the Lwala Community Alliance has partnered with several non-profit agencies to provide clean water and sanitation training, school uniforms and instruction in agricultural techniques. The goal is to empower villagers to improve their own community.

Milton and Fred, a resident in Internal Medicine/Pediatrics at Vanderbilt, said their multidimensional approach is being adopted by others. Kenya’s Ministry of Health has recognized their effort as a vital community resource, and recently tapped the Alliance to help prevent a widespread cholera outbreak.

In the morning keynote address, Randy Wykoff, M.D., MPH, dean of the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, said environmental destruction, overpopulation and unequal access to resources are the three major challenges to global health.

Deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate, while the world’s population has quadrupled to nearly 7 billion people in the last century. Yet unequal access is the greatest challenge, said Wykoff, a former executive at Project HOPE.

More than a billion people don’t have clean drinking water. Nearly that many are chronically malnourished. Each year 8 million children die before age 5, many from preventable, treatable and easily spreadable diseases like malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.

Unless these problems are addressed, Wykoff said, sooner or later they will arrive at our doorstep and threaten our own health and security. In this sense, he said, “the destinies of all the world’s peoples are inexorably intermingled.”