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Catholic Health Professionals in Kenya Providing School Services to Curb COVID-19

Kenya's Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha inspects a room set aside by the Heri Healthcare team for treatment of students at a Kenyan school

A team of health professionals in Kenya that includes medical doctors, professional counsellors, nurses and other health practitioners are attending to school going children in their respective learning institutions to limit the learners’ exposure to COVID-19 infections.

Speaking about the initiative dubbed Heri Healthcare, Dr. Njoki Fernandes told ACI Africa that the initiative was started last October when children resumed learning in schools where they were expected to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.

“Heri Healthcare is a COVID-19 company,” Dr. Fernandes said in the Thursday, March 25 interview, adding, “We came together at the height of the pandemic to support schools that had the huge burden of taking care of hundreds of children who were exposed to infections."

Children who had various illnesses, not necessarily COVI-19, at a school in Thika, outside Kenya’s capital Nairobi, were told to seek medical services outside the school at a health facility that is usually very crowded, thereby increasing their exposure to infections, she recalls and explains.

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Pioneered at the MaryHill Girls’ Secondary of Nairobi Archdiocese in Thika, Heri Healthcare initiative entails “bringing healthcare in schools in a safer and convenient way,” according to Dr. Fernandes, a healthcare consultant who has a background in gynecology.

In schools that have come on board, learners who fall sick are not allowed to leave the school premises but are treated by a team of Heri Healthcare givers.

The system, Dr. Fernandes says, also addresses trust issues between learners and their school management.

“There have been instances where learners were told that they are faking an illness just to leave the school premises or to go home altogether. With this initiative, the learners are taken care of in school and such misunderstanding is avoided,” she said.

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At inception, services at schools were geared towards “re-engineering” learners back to the school system after spending months away from school, the health professional tells ACI Africa, adding that learners who have been exposed to destructive behaviors such as drug use and irresponsible sexual behaviors while they stayed at home are taken through counselling and wellness sessions.

The uniqueness of the program, the Kenyan-born healthcare consultant says, is the all-rounded approach to education as well as its entrenchment in the Catholic teachings.

“This is certainly a game-changer in healthcare provision. In the past, parents have prioritized academic excellence over the wellbeing of their children in schools. It’s our hope that parents and guardians understand that mental health and other aspects of wellbeing build towards academics,” Dr. Fernandes explains.

She adds, “Some of the issues that school managements are dealing with at the moment such as student unrests and torching of buildings can be avoided by ensuring that the learners’ mental health is taken care of.”

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As for the initiative’s establishment in the Catholic beliefs and culture, the medical doctor says, “We are Catholics and we adhere to the Catholic traditions in our service provision. We stick to ethos when providing counselling to the young ones in schools who are battling youth-related challenges.”

Heri Healthcare works with schools that charge their students “a small fee” every school term to cover medical expenses for the entire session in school.

The only challenge the founders are facing, Dr. Fernandes says, is getting parents and guardians on board.

“It is not easy to convince parents to take the health of their children seriously. It is easier for them to pay for all other programs in schools than to invest in their children’s health in school,” she told ACI Africa March 25.

 

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