Report from Professor John Mecham:
Professional Development travel to Kenya, October 9-17, 2009
In 2008, Dr. Michael Otieno, Professor of Pre-Clinical Sciences, Kenyatta University (KU) and Dr. George Orinda, Professor of Biochemistry (KU) as Principle Investigators, and I as Consultant were awarded the grant, “Operations Research on the Integration of STI/HIV/AIDS and Other Services in Kenya”, with funds from the World Bank. The grant was submitted through the Kenyan National AIDS Control Council (NACC) and KU would be the manager of the budget. After the national elections in early 2008 and during many of the early months of 2008, Kenya was in a state of near civil war, and thus the money for the grant was held in escrow by Price-Waterhouse until early October of this year.
The timing of my arrival in Kenya was near perfect because the deadline for the first of three reports had arrived and I was able meet with Profs Otieno and Orinda to edit the 100+ page initial report that went to the NACC. The project is to assess the integration of Family Planning (FP) agencies and Reproductive Health (RH) agencies with agencies that deal with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and HIV/AIDS – primarily HIV/AIDS Volunteer Counseling and Testing (VCT) centers.
In Kenya, most of the above agencies are not located in proximity to each other and many do not have lines of communication with each other. In order to improve efficiency and the provision of health services, the goal is to integrate these services. Three lines of evaluation have been formulated: agency management, provider services, and client perceptions. This work will continue over the next 5 months during which an interim and final report will be produced.
I also met with Profs Otieno and Orinda to develop a plan of action to gather information on the possibility of offering courses for Meredith students at KU or at a field site in Kenya that would provide for instruction, cultural exposure, safaris, and service learning. While at KU, we visited some of the new Medical School buildings that Prof. Otieno was instrumental in starting during my stay in 2006.
I also met with Prof. Judith Waudo, Dean of the Graduate School at KU, who is also Professor of Nutrition, to learn more about her interests in establishing contacts with Foods and Nutrition faculty at Meredith.
Prof. Judith Waudo, Dean of the Graduate School, Kenyatta University with Prof. Michael Otieno, Professor of Pre-Clinical Sciences, Kenyatta University
While in Kenya I met with Mr. Karanja Njoroge who works closely with Prof. Wangari Maathai .
Mr. Njoroge accompanied Prof. Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her Green Belt Movement, on her visit to Meredith earlier this month. We had a productive discussion and he then took me to the University of Nairobi to meet with Prof. S. G. Kiama, Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Director of the newly formed Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies.
We had a lengthy conversation on how Meredith students might be involved in the development of the Institute and/or participate in the activities of the institute. It was also at Nairobi University that Mr. Njoroge showed me the veterinary anatomy lab in which Prof. Maathai taught.
Prof. S. G. Kiama (above). Mr. Njorge overlooking Wangari Maathai’s lab (below)
Prof. Njorge then took me into downtown Nairobi to the offices of the Green Belt Movement, and there it was my honor to meet and talk with Prof. Maathai.
She was extremely pleased with her visit to Meredith and was so taken with the McIver Amphitheatre that she plans to have a similar amphitheatre built as part of the Institute.
She noted that when she left Meredith she went to visit President Obama not knowing that a few days later he would be the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
One of the reasons I wanted to return to Kenya was to follow up on the research, that Prof. Otieno and I started in 2006, with the medicinal plant used to treat HIV/AIDS, Tylosema fassoglensis. Prof. Otieno was able to obtain some fresh T. fassoglensis tuber material from the western region (Lake Victoria area). He had about 2 pounds of it dried and ground to a fine powder to bring back to Meredith to continue our chemical analysis studies and we also collected some small sections to bring back to attempt to do tissue culture studies. We were unable to return to Rachel’s Children’s Home to meet with some of the women living with AIDS with whom we conducted research 3 years ago; but, we made plans for Michael to return to Rachel’s to collect blood samples for CD4 cell counts and possibly viral load studies.
We are extremely interested to know the current status of the infection in these women. Prof. Otieno has tried on several occasions to reach Rachel’s Home but after the political unrest that followed the national elections several years ago he would not have been safe to do so. Additionally, Rachel’s husband, who had been a Member of Parliament was not re-elected; and her son, while visiting in Kenya after recently completing his Ph.D. in England was shot and killed. Rachel has been extremely distraught since that time and Prof. Otieno reports that the Children’s Home has become almost dysfunctional.
On my last day in Kenya, Prof. Otieno and I traveled to Canini and spent one night there. While there we meet with the director and discussed some of the logistics of what might be involved in using Canini as a base of operations for research by Meredith students and faculty in Kenya.
Fulbright Award and NSF Grant Recipient
Professor of Biology, John Mecham, is the recipient of a Fulbright Lecture/Research Scholar award to Kenya for 2006. Dr. Mecham is also the PI on a one-year NSF grant which supports the development of an HIV/AIDS five-module course titled Life Science in Context: Sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Mecham represents Meredith in a five-college consortium that also includes Kenyatta University, North Carolina Wesleyan College, Guilford Technical Community College, and the University of South Carolina at Sumter.
The consortium focuses on the development of new curriculum that investigates the sociological and scientific facets of HIV/AIDS, parasitic diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa, and other Sub-Saharan bioscience issues such as water and resource competition, nutrition, and plant biotechnology.
Dr. Mecham's work in Kenya focuses on the needs of Kenyatta University which were identified through participation in the consortium with a visit to the university in 2003.
The Kenya--Spring 2006 experience will be used to ...
- build partnerships and to integrate, into courses taught in the United States, scientific reasoning within a framework of commitment, activism, and social justice.
- understand and teach that scientific processes are not universal e.g. the questions that scientists ask and that they need to answer are shaped by the problems that they face in their communities and the information and technology to which they have access, and that, in developing countries, scientific problems have an urgency and cultural connectivity that we in the United States have difficulty appreciating.