By David Hintch, Senior Health Program Officer for Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A.

As the new health program officer for the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), I recently traveled to Kenya and Tanzania. There I became acquainted with the dedicated people who drive the health initiatives of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in East Africa. AKDN supports a wide-ranging and impressive fabric of healthcare services, from top-quality cardiology and cancer units and major referral hospitals to community-based primary care outreach centers and grassroots public health initiatives.

I was impressed by AKDN’s health initiatives throughout my trip, but one visit in particular stuck with me. It’s an excellent example of how AKDN demonstrates in small models the evidence of best practice, using its innovative capacity and experience to improve the health of vulnerable rural populations who commonly have little access to even basic healthcare services.

In the village of Magodzoni on southern Kenya’s Swahili Coast, I had the privilege to meet with Dr. Amyn Lakhani, Director for AKDN’s Community Health Department in Kenya. In Magodzoni the team showed me a striking snapshot of AKDN’s Integrated Primary Health Care model at work through its Mama Na Mtoto(Swahili for Mother and Child) initiative. At the local level, the project empowers community leaders and stakeholders to mobilize resources in their communities and take an active role to improve health.

These community-based efforts are coupled with a unique public-private partnership approach. In it, AKDN builds the capacity of local government healthcare providers through a range of short-term courses to improve the quality of care, and facilitates a mutually beneficial partnership with the remote villages they serve.
The impact of all this became very clear to me when I met the dispensary nurse, Mr. Paul Deche, and two members of the village health committee. They explained to me how they worked hand in hand to train a cadre of community-selected health workers, with the support and leadership of the AKDN Mama Na Mtoto project. They also formed a vibrant village health committee that coordinates closely with the dispensary to define and lead critical health initiatives in the community.

As visible testimony to the partnership and coordination that the project has fostered Mr. Deche proudly pointed out a large chart on the health dispensary wall. It highlighted numbers and services provided through the dispensary for public information. This chart, maintained jointly by the dispensary nurse and village health committee, empowers community members to understand local health priorities and take action.

Another example of the community based approach is the construction of a new maternity wing and lab in Magodzoni. A head nurse and the dispensary health committee wrote a proposal for a new maternity wing and a donor agency agreed to build it. Inspired by their success, they sent another proposal for a new laboratory, to the Constituency Development Fund. That too was successful. Laboratory construction has begun, funds for the maternity wing will be disbursed after the laboratory is completed, and construction of the maternity wing will start soon.

All these initiatives emerged from local leadership in the villages and the community health committee. We at Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. support creative approaches that foster innovative public-private partnerships that address the critical health needs of the most vulnerable.