When loss of a friend is a turning point for saving lives

It was the night Natalie Odipo watched her friend, neighbor, and supporter die gasping for breath that she decided she was getting oxygen for the health facility that she and her family had set up in rural Kenya over 30 years ago. 

Three sets of twins in the first 3 weeks of getting oxygen—that’s the story of saving lives now at Disciples of Mercy, which serves thousands of people in this rural community on the outskirts of Kisumu town in Western Kenya.

Jennie Roberts—Natalie’s mother—founded the health center to provide integrated and quality healthcare to this rural community. However, Natalie and her team were forced to refer any cases of respiratory distress, chest pains and deliveries of twins to the city in the absence of oxygen.

“That’s the life giver! Having oxygen means bringing services to the door of the people instead to having to trek through the night to reach a big hospital,” says Natalie. “We get patients from rural areas. Once people knew that we had oxygen they have started coming here. Now that we have oxygen we are confident. The mothers are confident.”

When babies come with breathing problems and people with asthmatic attacks, crucial time was lost in setting up nebulizers.

“Oxygen is so quick. And it’s so easy. 
We don’t refer anybody now for such problems.
There’s no reason to do so.”

The facility tried getting oxygen from the leading private provider way back in 2006. “The humidifier broke down in a month. The provider didn’t have the part. Then by the time they got it, the regulator price had doubled.  Then there was a problem with the seal.  And we were charged a yearly fee which was costing us 10 times more than the price of the gas.”

It just didn’t make sense for the facility to continue with that service. Till 2015, it made do with concentrators which again developed problems very soon. “We needed oxygen and somebody who does maintenance and training on top of supplying oxygen. Hewa Tele is doing that,” says Natalie.

She needed someone she could call up for minor problems. She didn’t want companies that said they would send a technician from Nairobi, and she would never see them.

“I was concerned that Hewa Tele was a local manufacturing company and whether it would be able to give me the services. I made a few calls to the big hospitals that they are supplying and I was convinced it was genuine and it was legitimate. Doctors said the training was happening. So we went ahead and went for it.”

“If we had oxygen, he would have been alive today,” says Natalie, remembering the night she lost her friend of 30 years. The loss of her friend’s death still grieves Natalie, but today she is confident and happy that the facility is equipped to prevent such scenarios.