AMPATH: An Academic Partnership Changing Kenya

Counterpart relationships, a community-based approach and a focus on care above all else is what makes AMPATH a success story.

The program, which is a partnership between Moi University School of Medicine and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya, and a consortium of U.S. medical schools led by Indiana University, is one of Africa’s most comprehensive HIV treatment and control centers.  But though it is a multi-million dollar organization supported by some of the world’s most brilliant minds, those involved say its success all boils down to good relationships.

“Everything we do is based on mutual trust and respect, and counterpart relationships [with the Kenyans],” said Megan Miller, director of development and communications for AMPATH, at a campus lecture Tuesday afternoon. Miller was at Northwestern on November 10th, as part of the Global Health Lecture Series.

The organization began 20 years when four Indiana University doctors decided they wanted to forge a relationship with Moi University School of Medicine in western Kenya.  The idea was to help train health care leaders in Kenya, while at the same time giving IU medical students the opportunity to have an international health experience.

But when in the late 1990’s southern Africa’s number of HIV cases skyrocketed, Dr. Joe Mamlin, one of the founders of the program who had already spent a year on the ground, decided something must be done. “Joe said if we don’t start treating this then we just need to pack up and leave,” Miller said.

So they formed AMPATH, or Academic Model for Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS, which has now been changed to Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare to reflect its ever-expanding range of activities.  Starting with just 60 patients, the program is now the recipient of a $65 million grant, and is a partner with the U.S. government in AIDS relief and the World Food Program.

It also boasts a growing list of accomplishments, including: operating 25 full-time clinics and more than 30 satellite clinics, a state-of-the-art electronic medical record system, a brand new mother and baby hospital that delivers 10,000 babies a year, over $41 million in research grants, a legal aid center, a Family Sustainability Initiative to help provide families with food, jobs and training, and feeding more than 30,000 people a day, to name a few.

And the work has only just begun, with the organization expanding its scope to include areas such as primary care and chronic disease management, as well as programs to ensure water safety.  But those involved always keep in mind every program must be a partnership with the community. “We will not start any initiative unless it can be run by Kenyan leaders,” Miller said.

So why expand so quickly into so many various arenas?  Miller said it was a matter of necessity.  “We realized really quickly that treating and preventing HIV is a comprehensive project that needs to be looked at holistically,” she said. “If someone is starving, HIV treatment isn’t going to work.”

But though the organization continues to expand at a rapid rate, the initial community-based model has not changed: care always comes first.  “If you put care first, everything else follows,” Miller said. “That’s our motto.”

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