Alumni Spotlight – Joseph Mokaya, 2021 Healthpreneur of the year
“Ubuntu is a 15-year love story that almost never happened. It began when I handed in my resignation letter to my employer of seven years – Standard Chartered Bank. In the midst of all the chaos it was very clear that I didn’t want to get employed and this time I wanted to pursue something different. A number of years later, I was named a 2021 Healthpreneur of the year during the(FOYA) awards in a contest that spanned seven countries. FOYA is designed to recognize and appreciate young founders contributing to the African continent’s economic growth.
For you to appreciate the win, let me take you back to the early 2000s. In 2003, six years after my dad had passed on and when life in the city proved unbearable for my mother, we moved from Nairobi to Eldoret to start a new life. Here I finished my primary education, went to Segero Adventist Secondary school and before I sat for the final exam, tragedy struck again in the form of post-election violence (PEV). PEV forced me to relocate to Kisii to complete my secondary education and my whole family had to start all over in a foreign land. During this period, I lost touch with my best friend in primary school, Gideon Too, whose main goal was to be a doctor. I dreamt of becoming a pilot and, together, we would travel the world treating the sick. I later had a deep desire to be a doctor. However, I fell short of the marks to get to medical school; luckily, I got a scholarship to join the Business Information Technology (BBIT) course at Strathmore University.
In Strathmore, I got to meet great mentors: My first boss and database administration lecturer, Dr. Nicodemus Maingi, my programming lecturer, Dr Bernard Shibwabo, now the Director, School of Graduate Studies. I also met an amazing group of friends in BBIT with whom we made a number of systems for the Ministry of Health under the HP Lab (mSOS for the center for disease surveillance and response, HCMP for MOH under the support of Clinton foundation) and many more. This, together with my community based attachment at Kenyatta National Hospital made me passionately want to be involved in the health sector. Like Dr. Maingi used to say “We are in the business to save lives”.
During the post-election, on the eve of the New Year, 2008, we were surrounded by bandits in a field of napier grass and, at that particular moment, I said a silent prayer that was ideally meant to be my final prayer asking for forgiveness and a chance to be in heaven. From this experience I realise that today this life I have is borrowed; it’s not mine and every day I want to live for God in my own imperfect ways. So when I was choosing a name for the hospital, Ubuntu made most sense because it means “I am because we are” and despite the loss of work, I was grateful for the chance to start afresh. With this chance I wanted to give back as much as I could for the new chance I was given after surviving the election violence. Thanks to God I have found my purpose and with this I want to change lives one day at a time.
Ubuntu Hospital is a psychiatric and family hospital in Miwani Machakos – Kenya whose aim is to breathe life into our clients. Since opening its doors on December 1st 2020, we have served 842 clients with 36% clients coming back for services. We cater for in-patient, out- patient, maternity, dermatology, psychiatric, dentist, Mother-child-clinic, pharmacy and lab services. While these services look numerous, like many start-ups we face lots of challenges but the greatest is the financial aspect while dealing with critical issues, which for now has been COVID-19 pandemic.
The main reason why I set up this hospital while I’m not a medic is that I believe there is still lots of room in the country for all the good that hospitals can do. It has not been an easy ride though.
During the pandemic period, we have faced two challenges. Relatives brought in their loved ones – covid patients – in need of advanced care. We have turned away 18 clients who needed oxygen and ventilator support and it is really sad that 12 didn’t make it. It’s a pity that the cost of medication and lack of the ICU/HDU beds has been our primary challenge. Oxygen, patient monitors and ventilators are just a few of the things we need to be able to save lives. The second problem we’ve encountered is teenage pregnancies. The pandemic came with a surge in numbers of teens with pregnancies. In July 2020, it was reported that there were 3,964 teenagers under the age of 19 years who were pregnant contributing to a 40% increase countrywide. With a teenager’s body still under development, there was a need to have a fully fitted theatre to cater for complications at birth. To date we have referred six cases to other hospitals because we are not yet fully equipped.
We are in the process of starting a fintech arm of the hospital and are hoping to expand it to a micro-insurance product for those in the base of the pyramid. We also have a partnership with Mumbuni Express football club with a campaign dubbed “CHEZA BOLI EPUKA BOLI with the aim of reducing teen pregnancies. We have put a normal delivery price of KES 7,500 for any teenager with full psychological support as they transition to parenthood and back to school. We are currently seeking help to raise funds for our theatre that will enable us to give discounts to the teens who have complications during delivery.
I hope that the idea and the itch that started more than a decade ago can grow to be an African movement to change the healthcare sector for good. I also hope this inspires someone else to chase after their dreams no matter the cost.” Joseph Mokaya, BBIT, Class of 2013.
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