Umra Omar launched the Safari Doctors social enterprise in 2015 as an innovative health care solution for communities living in the 65 remote islands of Kenya’s Lamu County. The unconventional medical practice provides monthly mobile clinics to isolated villages via boat, making it an essential service to the region’s 3,000 residents. Safari Doctors improves health care in rural Kenya by leveraging the organizational mobility of its’ clinic.
Right, Not a Privilege
Safari Doctors serves marginalized indigenous communities living in remote regions of the Lamu County archipelago. A lack of health care infrastructure in the region makes it incredibly difficult for residents in remote villages to access emergency medical services. Many of these villages are an eight-hour boat ride from the mainland hospital, with travel costs reaching $300 for a one-way ticket, according to World Economic Forum.
With 34.3% of Kenyans living below the poverty line as of 2021, such travel costs constitute a significant strain on the impoverished rural residents of Lamu County. Safari Doctors improves health care in rural Kenyan communities by eradicating these travel costs and optimizing health care accessibility.
In order to address the need for health care services, Safari Doctors provides valuable primary care services such as routine checkups, immunizations, family planning, gynecology services and dental care, World Economic Forum reported. These health maintenance services are crucial preventative measures, warding off preventable diseases and minimizing health emergencies.
Safari Doctors was also integral to mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, treating more than 4,000 people between March 2020 and June 2020. The Safari Doctors continues to provide COVID-19 testing services as well as vaccines.
In 2018, Safari Doctors launched the Safari Vets program, providing free veterinary services to Lamu’s remote villages. The Safari Vets program follows a holistic One Health philosophy, acknowledging that human health is directly related to the health of animals and the environment more broadly.
Community Outreach and Local Development
In addition to medical services, Safari Doctors has implemented multiple local programs aimed at bolstering community outreach and health care development. Safari Doctors established The Youth Health Ambassadors program in 2018 with the goal of engaging young people in Lamu’s marginalized communities. The Youth Health Ambassadors program trains Lamu’s youth to be health leaders in their communities.
Program participants receive first-aid training and education on issues related to reproductive health and hygiene practices. The program provides young Lamu-county residents with the opportunity to become licensed “Community Health Workers.” As Community Health Workers, individuals expand Safari Doctor’s outreach by conducting monthly household visits in their community and collecting valuable health data. Safari Doctors improves health care in remote Kenya while empowering Lamu’s youth to take community development into their own hands.
Additionally, Safari Doctors initiated an Indigenous Voices civic education program, which includes 58 representatives from 138 of Kenya’s indigenous women’s groups. The program aims to enable women to “engage in County health budget processes, inform policy and advocate for improved health service delivery.”
A Mobile Health Care Revolution
The Safari Doctors enterprise started on the conviction that mobile health care solutions are essential to bolstering Kenya’s health care infrastructure. According to World Economic Forum, 72% of Kenya’s population lives in rural areas with limited access to health care services. Safari Doctors improves health care in rural Kenya by implementing a mobile, community-driven model, making it an excellent example of how a mobile health service system can effectively tend to the needs of the community.
The issue of equitable health care access is not unique to Kenya, as seen in a 2018 study that found that 29% of the population of sub-Sahara Africa lives more than two hours from a hospital, World Economic Forum reported. Discussions on mobile health care solutions for remote African communities are emerging as a viable mechanism for transforming Africa’s health infrastructure.
In addition to the emergence of mobile medical practices such as Safari Doctors, many nations have begun exploring how drones can improve the public health of their populations. Rwanda was the first to implement a medical drone system in 2016 after partnering with the U.S.-based drone startup, Zipline.
Rwanda uses Zipline’s drones to streamline blood deliveries and send vital medicines to rural health centers. Zipline’s success in Rwanda encouraged Ghana to do the same in 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Zipline allowed both countries to distribute personal protective equipment, respirators, oxygen and vaccines to rural communities.
Safari Doctors is a testament to the importance of mobile health care solutions in the world’s most remote regions. Safari Doctors is proof that technological development paired with community-driven solutions provides a promising avenue for improving health care access in marginalized communities around the globe.
– Mollie Lund
Photo: Wikipedia Commons