In the early 1980s Kenya began a process of privatizing its open grazing land into group ranches. This significant land-use change has forced traditionally nomadic, pastoral peoples, including the Maasai, to adapt to more sedentary agro-pastoral lifestyles that confine them to smaller plots of land. The Maasai, a proud and historically self-sufficient society are now facing many social, political, economic, and environmental challenges. The result has increased their vulnerability to disease and famine, and they frequently rely on relief food and scarce water resources to survive.
This major shift from nomadism to pastoralism in East Africa has brought about new health problems for the Maasai, including an escalation in sanitation-related and water-borne diseases, infant and childhood disease, and HIV/AIDS. Access to quality health care, both physically and culturally, poses a critical issue for this predominantly rural population. The fact that there are virtually no baseline data on Maasai public health status in southern Kenya adds another dimension to this public health challenge.
In Kenya, nearly 80% of the population, including the Maasai, still depends on herbal medicine — it remains an important source of treatment, particularly for rural communities. The World Health Organization’s global strategy includes popularizing and incorporating herbal medicine in the national health systems of member countries. Consequently, Kenya is developing a national policy that will incorporate herbal medicine in its health provision strategy. Students participating in this SFS course may provide a vital link between the needs of the Maasai and Kenya’s national health strategy.
SFS has been conducting health-related research in the region since 2007, focusing on establishing baseline data on issues including water and sanitation, access to health care, and general health indicators. Except for the household surveys conducted by SFS students, there is little baseline information on the health status of local and migrant residents in southern Kenya. The absence of this data adds another dimension to the public health challenge. Our aim is to provide the Kenya health officers with data on the most prevalent health issues in households and villages, as well as assessments of the effectiveness of the community-level health services, in order to enhance preventive measures to minimize health concerns.
This course introduces students to rural health issues and healthcare systems in Kenya, emphasizing the links between health and environment, and community-based healthcare and modern medicine. Students participating in this course provide, through field research, a vital link between the challenges and health needs of the local Maasai communities and Kenya’s national health strategy. Students also gain invaluable experience with designing and implementing a field assessment project in public health. The program is particularly applicable to those considering a major or concentration in global health, public health, nursing, pre-med, or medical and health sciences programs, but it is open to all majors.
This course may be taken independently or in combination with the Wildlife Management and Conservation course (Tanzania) in Summer Session I. Students participating in two summer sessions in East Africa are eligible for a $1,000 discount.
This experience made me lay aside all my preconceived notions of what I, as a future public health professional, would do when going into to a developing community. I learned that it’s not always reaching for the ideal, but first grasping at the attainable and then working upwards from there.
— Erin Eisenhardt, SUNY Albany School of Public Health, Summer '10
FIELD EXPEDITIONS AND EXERCISES
- Visit Maasai villages and group ranches, local health clinics and dispensaries, and HIV/AIDS clinics
- Learn about the socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental issues related to public health and health care services in rural Kenya
- Work with local health workers to see firsthand the health challenges that communities face at the household level
- Implement a research project: conduct field-based data collection, analyze and assess data, practice report writing, and present findings and recommendations to public health officials and local residents
SFS students live at our Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (KBC), near the town of Kimana, and situated in the remote foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. The camp is nestled within a lush zone of yellow acacia trees, giving a perfect view of the magnificent mountains in the distance. Students sleep in thatched-roof bandas and enjoy the main building or chumba, which houses a dining room, kitchen, and classroom. Ample space at camp allows for outdoor games and exploration.