Village doctor promoting life and health management in Kenya

Esther J

Vihiga county in Kenya has over 716.000 population and was formerly a district under old kakamega district. Its headquarters is located in Mbale. It has a total of 93 health facilities of all categories which are grossly inadequate,. Many of the facilities also lack modern medical facilities that can meet the needs of the population due to low budgetary requirements.

Some of the communicable and non-communicable diseases according to research that ranked highest in causes of death in the county include HIV, stroke, lower respiratory infection, neonatal disorders etc. To address the shortage of access to health, Vihiga county Governor, Dr Wiber Otichillo, recently promised that with changes in health law to social insurance, life may become easier.

*Human resources for health in Vihiga County

Dr Faith Odwaro, the village doctor, Mazira hospital and foundation in Vihiga

Dr Faith Odwaro was born in Vihiga, a rural village in the western part of Kenya, but was raised along the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu and later went on to receive advanced degrees and fellowships within and outside Kenya. Today she is a General Surgeon & Endoscopist-Odessa State Medical University, Ukraine| Fellow, Paul Farmer Program for Global Surgery and Social Change- Harvard | Fellow, Social Innovation Management-Amani Institute | Fellow, iLead-Emerging Leaders Foundation

Mazira Memorial hospital

Prior to the establishment of Mazira Memorial Hospital and foundation, patients suffering from colonoscopy, endoscopy related issues had to travel to Kisumu, Kakamega or Nairobi to get treatment. The cost of getting these surgeries are out of reach of many especially for many widows, whose sources of incomes are meagre.

The Mazira foundation works with the community, partners and other stakeholders to make these services accessible and affordable – a crucial element in protecting the community from economic impoverishment as a result of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, which are on the rise affecting livelihoods.

Emergency section

Today, The Mazira Foundation, through The Mazira Memorial Hospital has an outpatient clinic in Mutembe village in Vihiga County. Vihiga is strategically situated and the hospital now receives patients from Kisumu, Kakamega, Nandi, Siaya as well as other counties far and beyond. The hospital has at least 300 widows on its free health list.

Dr Odwaro and medical team in the theatre

Eddy Orinda, Phd

Two things inspired the birth of Mazira foundation, which gave birth to Mazira Memorial Hospital by Dr Odwaro and her co-founder. The two reasons also accounted for Dr Odwaro’s choice of medicine as a profession. The Mazira foundation is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 2006 by Dr. Faith Mugoha (MD)and Eddy Orinda(Phd), daughter and son in-law respectively to Nancy Adisa Odwaro and the late Rev. Hosea Mazira Odwaro. Rev Odwaro battled acute leukaemia for about four years.

Dr Faith

Dr Odwaro’s visits to hospital in between Rev Odwaro’s battles in both Kenya and Canada inspired her to do what she now does with so much joy-  An additional joy to Dr Odwaro is that she can now serve the community of her birth as a medical doctor.

Today The foundation medical camp has blocks of buildings for the hospital, the foundation and the Solid Rock Widow’s Ministry established by Dr Odwaro’ mothers.

Hotel accommodation within Mazira foundation Camp

The Camp facility has capacity for training, Research, and Advocacy, as well as a center of excellence for Diagnostic and Therapeutic procedures for surgical diseases with a focus on gastrointestinal diseases. It also has an hotel with modern conference facilities and exclusive accommodation rooms to host doctors, out of town patients and their caregivers. The serenity is to be experienced, it is conducive for our psychotherapy sessions.

Members of Solid Rock Widow ‘s Ministry and also recipients’ of Mazira hospital health services

The facility together with the Hospital are hosted at The Cradle, which is our sustainability model for the foundation’s social programs that target widows and members of their household.


Many people died early in the Vihiga out of lack of proper disease management as already stated in the beginning. Lifestyle disease management is really essential if people must live long in health. So a major concern of the foundation and the hospital is to equip residents and citizens of Vihiga on Lifestyle disease management or how to prevent infections.

Mazira Foundation Medical outreach

One of the ways the foundation helps is providing nutrition guidance. This way, many diseases can be prevented through effective and proper dieting. “While we agree some proteins can be out of reach of many in the community, we ensure we help in creating, suggesting alternatives that are within reach in the community. This way, people and patients can prevent many diseases. “Identifying locally available options, which people, patient can save a lot of lives these days” says Jacintha Mamukhisa, a nutritionist working with the foundation.

 Mazira also trains health community workers/district health authority. This effort had seen Mazira foundation train over 600 health workers. According to Dr Odwaro “The Mazira foundation has worked with the community in Vihiga for more than 17 years. it started by working with the local administration leaders and training the community health promoters in their health units as part of mapping and integration”

Additionally, Mazira engages in health promotion, education and advocacy to influence the community to own their health. Mazira rolls out the annual community medical outreaches as part of understanding the health needs of the community.  But the big question Dr Odwaro always ask after 15 medical outreaches includes the following.

With all the positive impact, is this sustainable? How can it be made  sustainable? According to Dr Odwaro, this led her to study for MBA degree which she followed up with a fellowship at the Amani Institute for Social Innovation Management; the prestigious Paul Farmer Program for Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard and many other engagements.

Medical outreach

The foundation aside from offering medical outreaches also promotes awareness in cervical and cancer of the cervice. Dr Ruth Lushike one of the volunteer medical officer says “we care much of women lifestyles and therefore we often gather women to promote awareness about cervical cancer as well as that of the cervixe which are major killers. Detecting these early saves lives”

Mazira Hospital medical outreach

On what motivated and continues to drive her passion, knowing that health is a major problem in many counties in Kenya, Dr Odwaro said “Health is not only political but complex and costly. Poverty and cultural practices compound the inequity in health even more, especially for the vulnerable populations in the rural setup where I work as a social entrepreneur and Surgeon”. The hospital and foundation’s focus on the widows had seen quite a number receiving free treatments (which range from all forms of medical attention including costly surgeries), For Dr Odwaro, widows are mostly affected by the challenges that the foundation seeks to address, access to health.

According to Dr Odwaro “The devastating loss of a partner is magnified by a long-term fight for their basic rights and dignity, widows have historically been unsupported in our societies. Their experiences and unique needs have been ignored”. It is on record that there are not less than 258 million widows around the world

Social Innovation of the foundation

The social innovations are structured to make an impact in health while making profits that continue to finance our social programs that focus on the socioeconomically disadvantaged members of the community. The social enterprises are managed by ATIG  as a group and cover the following aspects: Hospitality – Dacha Family Gardens (restaurant, accommodation, conferencing) & Dacha Country Club (business networking,sports and events) Micro-financing  Education 

Beneficiaries speak

Elizabeth Orado, a widow who had undergone free surgery said “I will like to appreciate the hospital and the foundation for coming to my aid when I needed one mostly. The services they provide for widows for free are life-saving and it has really helped up. We can only pray they get more support to continue to do the good work”.

Elizabeth Orado. One of the hospital free surgery beneficiaries

“Most of the widows in the community are very poor and may not afford the cost of the surgeries, having Dr Odwaro, Mazira foundation and the hospital in the district had gone a long way in helping to elongate life and made such lives more productive and efficient”, Mrs Elizabeth Orado stated.

Another beneficiary of endoscopy medical procedure, Tafrother Kahenda Kayiya could not hide her feelings. Having suffered for long without respite and after visiting many public hospitals without help. I first heard about Mazira Foundation and its hospital through other women who had benefitted from the hospital’s free services.  Being a person from low or almost zero income family, I had to try my luck by approaching the foundation. At the hospital, the approach was warmth, right from the consultation, series of tests and then the surgical process itself. ”If not for intervention of Dr Faith and Mazira hospital, I could not have been free today. Because of most the hospitals around do not offer the service, those that are doing suffer delays, false booking, long queues and postponements, I am so grateful to the hospital and foundation” says Kahenda Kayiya.

Sustainability, looking forward

“Our joy is in the changes we have brought to the community and the district. Today we have a few thousands of people whose lives have been saved through our hospital and foundation’s effort. “Majority of these saved lives got medical services totally free (the widows) while others got theirs at highly discounted prices that were within their reach as we had to subsidize the service”, Eddy Orinda stated.

Some of the medical team members that come to help from outside the hospital

On sustainability, Eddy Orinda, one of the managing trustees of the Mazira Foundation did affirm that “The foundation had forged synergies and mutually beneficial relationships with doctors and other professionals who support our work either for free or at a minimum cost to the foundation” We have been able to build a family-oriented organization which allows volunteers at various level to feel a sense of commitment where every service is seen as personal contribution to a life changing and giving back

The future is bright with our decision to improve. With help and contribution of well-meaning and philanthropic individuals, organizations, the Mazira memorial hospital, the Mazira Foundation, both based in Vihiga, we continue to ensure equal access to quality life and health. “The horizon continues to be brighter each day for people in the district and Kenya at large as we expand services to deserving individuals” Dr Odwaro added.

“There will be more of community-based health fair. A health campaign to fight cancer by promoting early diagnostic endoscopy. This is an important strategy to make quality diagnosis of surgical diseases Timely, Accessible and Affordable to all. We are looking for partnerships to make this possible”.  There is also a passionate desire to make the Mazira Memorial Hospital into a centre of excellence for training and mentorship in global Surgery and Health equity

photo credits: Dr Faith Odwaro

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