Life as sole health worker in Lerata
Lilian Kaivilu @liliankaivilu
One afternoon in 2016, Francis Lenkupae was going about his work as a nurse at the Ol Donyo Nasipa dispensary in Samburu North.
“Some boys arrived on a motorbike with a badly injured boy whose bones had been fractured by a warthog while herding in the fields,” he remembers.
The injured boy was bleeding profusely and Lenkupae knew he had to quickly act to save his life.
With no mobile network or an ambulance nearby, Lenkupae, dressed the boy and with a borrowed lesso strapped him into his back. His destination was Wamba Catholic Mission Hospital.
“Using a motorbike, and leaving the boy’s mother behind, I rode 86km to the facility. It was the lowest moment in my career,” he says. Fortunately, the boy got treatment and recovered.
This is just one of the many emergency cases Lenkupae and other health workers in hardship areas have to face every day.
Lack of proper road network, limited phone network, absence of ambulances, threat of wild animals and frequent bandit attacks are just some obstacles they deal with.
But passion, Lenkupae says, keeps him going. As the world grapples with Covid-19, nurses in such marginalised areas have more than just the pandemic to deal with. Lenkupae says it’s a challenging environment.
Lenkupae’s 22-year-career in healthcare started in Barsaloi in 1998 where he worked for seven years before moving to Suari Model Health Centre in 2004. Under his leadership, the facility was promoted to a health centre.
He would then be transferred to Ol Donyo Nasipa in Samburu North where he worked for four years before heading to Samburu East to join Lerata dispensary, where he is the nurse in charge and the only health worker.
As a pupil at South Horr Primary School, Lenkupae and his best friends wanted to become teachers.
But Lenkupae’s education sponsor, a German national convinced him to pursue health.
Lenkupae undertook a nursing course at Wamba Nursing School in 1995 and graduated in 1997. He was immediately hired to work in Barsaloi in 1998.
When we arrive at Lerata Dispensary, Lenkupae receives us at the gate. He has worked here since 2018.
On one hand, he holds a bunch of keys and on the other, he carries packed lunch.
He had taken a lunch break at the nearby shopping centre, but had to rush back to attend to pupils who have visited with different ailments.
They perhaps walked for hours to seek medication. As a result, Lenkupae has to quickly attend to them lest they get late for their journey home.
His dedication is visible in how he serves the pupils.
“I have to attend to them first. I am not sure how far they are going,” he says as he greets us and proceeds to attend to the young ones.
This is the daily routine for the 47-year-old nurse. Many times, he has had to make a tough choice between his leave days and service to patients, some of whom come from as far as 30km away.
After about 40 minutes, Lenkupae releases the pupils. But that’s not all. Three women walk in together for their post-natal visits.
He attends to them at a maternal shelter right behind his office. This is Lenkupae’s typical work day.
“It is unpredictable. You can expect anything; from an emergency, complex pregnancy, a normal one, children seeking treatment for fractures and so on,” he says.
Lenkupae expresses dissatisfaction with the lack of adequate infrastructure such as poor road network and limited human resource in the area.
“Our only hope is the ambulances. We have to go about three to five kilometres in search of mobile network whenever we have to call for an ambulance.
But we have learnt to live with these challenges. Ambulances are very far from most of our facilities.
The county government says the ambulances should stay in one place. With such a directive, it would be difficult to access the next facility during emergencies,” he adds, calling for provision of mobile network in every area.
He also recommends deployment of more health workers in the area.
“Staffing is also a challenge. You could be attending to someone with an injury needing quick attention.
At the same time, there is an immunisation case and an antenatal case. This becomes quite hectic for a facility like ours that has only one health worker,” he adds.
Even so, he says he will keep on working. “I am in this work till I retire. I want to be remembered for the improvement of services in my facility,” he says.