Resident, UBC Division of International Health
Suba District & Mfangano Island, November 2006 – February 2007
The “Suba Experience” is one I’ll never forget. Impossibly muddy roads and impossibly surreal sunsets, impressively difficult living conditions and equally impressive warmth and hospitality – life in rural Kenya is one of endless contrast and surprise. No two days here are ever the same, and for this reason it would be difficult, if not impossible, to describe the “typical” elective experience. One morning you are traveling to a mobile clinic across a dusty game park with giraffes as your only companions, and the next you find yourself knee-deep in mud struggling to push your stranded vehicle out of a ditch. For those with a spirit of adventure who wish to experience the “real” Kenya, Suba is the place for you!
After a week of orientation in the city of Kisumu, I spent 6 weeks living and working on the mainland of Suba District, and then 6 weeks on the island of Mfangano and its satellite sites. Each experience was unique, and all were very much worthwhile. Kisumu offers the attractions and comforts of life in a big city, mainland Suba provides the endless challenge and variety of daily travel and 8 fascinating and remote satellite sites, and Mfangano boasts the peace and tranquility of “island life” without the hustle of electricity and cars. There is a choice to suit every personality!
The clinical experience is equally variable, albeit with the one constant that wherever you are in Kenya the challenges are formidable. Whether you are blessed with access to labs and xray, or left entirely to your own clinical devices, you will most certainly find that the daily challenge of providing HIV care in such a resource limited setting will, at times, be overwhelming. With an HIV prevalence rate of 32%, and a poverty level much higher than the national average, Suba District is an area of tremendous need. As difficult as the clinical conditions may be however, it is also a region of seemingly endless energy and hope. The Kenyan staff with whom you will have the privilege of working are expert clinicians, impressively resourceful, and will serve as a daily source of knowledge, encouragement, and inspiration. The patients too are equally resourceful — many traveling several hours over extremely difficult routes to reach the clinics – and will move you with their warmth, generosity and courage. No matter how limited your time may be in Suba, the impact will stay with you for a lifetime!
The details of day to day life at each of these sites will vary, and I would be happy to answer specific questions by email. However the best way to learn more about Suba is, of course, to experience it for yourself! Pack a stethoscope, a penlight, more hand sanitizer than you could ever imagine needing, and, if you’ve got one, a helicopter would come in handy too. Also be sure to bring your clinical curiosity, your humility and humanity, your ability to adapt and accommodate and, above all, your spirit of adventure. This is a wonderful opportunity to briefly share in the lives of an incredible and inspiring people, and an experience not to be missed. Safe travels!