Dorcas Mwende Mulei was at the height of her career working as a businesswoman in Kenya’s rural Makueni County when complications from diabetes confined the 46-year-old to her home.
Now she’s on the mend, thanks to her involvement in Medtronic LABS’ patient support groups at a clinic just a short walk from her home. The support groups are part of LABS’ Empower Health program in Kenya, which is now expanding from six counties to the entire country of nearly 54 million people.
The expansion was announced at a roundtable event with healthcare leaders from across Kenya, including key partners, such as Kenya’s Ministry of Health, World Diabetes Foundation, Kenya Defeat Diabetes Association, PATH and others.
Hypertension and diabetes are a major health concern in Kenya, affecting millions. The Empower Health expansion will roll out over the next three years and has the potential to impact over 300,000 people living with these chronic diseases.
“Scaling this program in Kenya is just the beginning of strengthening the health system and eventually reaching 100% of affected people through multistakeholder partnerships,” said Eric Angula, Head of Partnerships and Government Affairs in Africa for Medtronic LABS.
A comprehensive model of care
An independent nonprofit organization funded by Medtronic, Medtronic LABS is dedicated to creating technology-powered healthcare solutions to accelerate patient access for underserved communities around the world by combining digital technology, field operations and partnerships.
Born out of former Medtronic CEO and Chairman Omar Ishrak’s desire to expand access to quality healthcare for people living in emerging markets, the organization has continued to grow in alignment with this original vision.
“The core of the Medtronic Mission to use technology to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life applies to everybody in the world,” Ishrak, who serves on LABS’ board, said. “Technology has enabled a whole new layer of healthcare in underserved communities.”
The technology platform is part of what makes LABS so effective. The organization has also been strategic about plugging into existing healthcare infrastructure, forging strong partnerships along the way.
The landmark public-private partnership with the Ministry of Health of Kenya, the County Government of Makueni, World Diabetes Foundation, Kenya Defeat Diabetes Association and others has allowed LABS to reach over 42,000 patients in Kenya.
In Makueni County, where Mulei lives, the program has reached over 14,000 patients.
“This is one of the most important public-private partnerships that we’ve done since our inception as a government,” said His Excellency the Governor of Makueni County Professor Kivutha Kibwana.
The Empower Health program started in 2018 with one hospital. It’s grown into a comprehensive model, offering patient screening, diagnosis, disease management, education, tele-counseling and peer support groups.
Medtronic LABS has trained over 300 Community Health Volunteers to screen patients for hypertension and diabetes in Kenya. Equipped with a tablet or cell phone with LABS’ tech, a weighing scale, blood pressure monitor and blood glucometer, they are assigned patients in their community.
Once screened, the patients are connected with healthcare in a clinic or hospital. Then, the Community Health Volunteer visits their home twice a month. Combined with monthly patient support groups, this approach has led to better outcomes and an increased number of patients in Makueni County maintaining their care plans.
‘Multiply the impact’
For patients like Mulei, who live in hard-to-reach areas, the impact can’t be overstated.
She earned the majority of the family’s income until her diabetes complications caused a wound on her foot bad enough to keep her home from work. Now that she has the care and support she needs, she’ll be able to start working — and caring for her family — again.
“I have good hopes that through the support group I won’t be bothered by the diabetes and my wound and live happily,” she said.
For Mulei and the other 6 million Kenyans living with hypertension and diabetes, Empower Health offers hope and new beginnings.
“Empower Health is a model for how we can expand these programs, not just in Kenya, but in sub-Saharan Africa and eventually other parts of the world,” said Ruchika Singhal, President of Medtronic LABS. “You start to multiply the impact with people living in low-and-middle-income countries, and we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people that could potentially be impacted.”