Editor's note: John Njoroge Nduta wrote this story after taking the VOA Learning English online course, "Writing Science in Plain English" at the American Resource Center in the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. His story is the first place winner of the contest sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and VOA Learning English. The second place winner's story is "Scientists Advise: Low-Salt Diet Not for Everyone."
The green hilly landscape of Mount Elgon district in rural Kenya is appealing and inviting. The rhythm of life flows through the landscape. Villages of mud grass thatched houses tell of severe poverty that the inhabitants live in. Villagers are only just beginning to recover from extended fights over land.
Access to basic healthcare and educational facilities is poor. Mothers in these struggling families have tough decisions to make. Should they go tend their gardens or take infants to receive potentially lifesaving vaccines at a distant clinic?
Life or death choices
What ensues is a life or death choice that, either way, impacts negatively on an entire household’s livelihood.
Lifesaving vaccines continue to be produced but do not reach a majority of those who really need them. Benson Wamalwa and his team of scientists from the University of Nairobi were determined to change the state of affairs. He applied for a seed grant from Grand Challenge Canada in 2012.
The donors had no idea of the pleasant surprise to come. Wamalwa’s research team developed quick response coded vaccination cards that award loyalty points to families that take their children and pregnant mothers to be immunized.
Earned points can be redeemed for reduced prices on agricultural farm supplies like seeds and fertilizer and other household supplies. This would persuade mothers, faced with tough choices on a daily basis, to visit health clinics for their children and themselves to be immunized.
“Thanks to the cards, children are vaccinated and protected against preventable illnesses for the rest of their lives and households enjoy better harvests safeguarding their nutrition and livelihoods”, explains Wamalwa.
Increased use of vaccines
The project raised the use of vaccines from 55% in 2014 to 96% in the first half of 2016.
The percentage of pregnant women going to clinics before their baby's birth rose from 25% to 90%. Children delivered at home and brought to a health facility for their first immunization increased from 20% at the beginning of the project to 90% by April 2014. These were tremendous strides towards saving lives in Mt. Elgon.
In addition, there was a great increase in crop harvests. Smallholder farmers were able to access hybrid seeds and fertilizers, which increased land productivity. For example, a 70% rise in the harvest of beans was recorded.
Village Grain Bank begun
This further motivated other social entrepreneurs to start a ‘Village Grain Bank’ to maintain and strengthen the agricultural supply chain. This has promoted local food security and nutrition.
“To date, over 900 mothers have benefited from the Village Grain Bank." adds Dr. Wamalwa
Another social innovation which came up as a result of the immunization incentives was the ‘Vaccine Link.’ This program tries to solve the problem of the shortage of vaccines by connecting mothers with their nearest fully stocked clinic.
Dr. Wamalwa’s team was recently honored with a healthcare Innovation award from the GSK-Save the Children Partnership as well as funding from the Saving Lives at Birth group supported by USAID.
“There have been many promising and important global health innovations. But those which are really influencing and working within the system tend to address human behavior and motivation”, says Brinnon Mandel from Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University.
Scientists the world over are challenged to have a human behavior aspect in their innovations. This will allow their good innovations to reach people who need them the most.
I'm Pete Musto. And I'm Jill Robbins.
This article was written by John Njoroge Nduta and edited by David Mwang and VOA Learning English staff
About the writer:
John Njoroge Nduta lives and works in the Kasarani area of Nairobi, Kenya. He teaches Biology and Chemistry at Starehe Girls' Centre and School. He earned a Bachelor of Education in Science and a Master's of Education in Curriculum Development from the University of Nairobi.
Njoroge leads a mentorship program for girls in slum schools within Nairobi and coordinates a group of volunteer teacher-trainees from Kenya Science Campus of the University of Nairobi to teach needy secondary school students in a rehabilitation center in the Dagoretti area of Nairobi.
Words in This Story
seed grant - n. money given to set up a new business or enterprise.
quick response (QR) code - trademark. a machine-readable code consisting of an array of black and white squares, used for storing website links or other information for reading by the camera on a smartphone.
redeem - v. to exchange (something, such as a coupon or lottery ticket) for money, an award, etc.
food security - n. the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
immunize - v. to give (someone) a vaccine to prevent infection by a disease
hybrid - adj.. an animal or plant that is produced from two animals or plants of different kinds
innovation - n. the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods
What do you think about this loyalty program? Is there a program like this where you live? Write to us in the Comments Section.