African health workers impress Del Mar Rotary president

By Arthur Lightbourn

Contributor

Looking very much like the athlete she is, Dr. Janice Kurth is a woman whose philosophy, borrowed from her scientist father, is simply "Just go for it."

And that's exactly what she's been doing much of her life — going for it as a physician, mother of two daughters, school volunteer, community activist, fitness practitioner and, most recently, as president of the Del Mar Rotary Club and leader of a six-member exchange study group to Africa.

Kurth, 47, shared the highlights of her African experience, which, she says, confirmed her belief that the best way to improve the lives of Africans is to provide them with training, equipment and educational opportunities.

"Just throwing money at problems is not the answer. Training is," she said, "for disease prevention, but not just medicines, helping them to change their lifestyle to prevent disease."

The group left for Africa on Jan. 31 and returned to San Diego on Feb. 28.

Sponsored by Rotary International, the one-month study tour was an exchange between two Rotary districts: District 5340 of Southern California and Orange County and District 9200, comprising Rotary clubs in five countries in East Africa, including Kenya.

"Our team was composed of all health care professionals," Kurth said.

The study group included Kurth as team leader, and UCSD postdoctoral fellow Dr. Lwbba Chait, along with four young adult health professionals: UCSD research epidemiologist Estela Blanco, Linda Vista Healthcare Center director Tara Beeston, UCSD public health coordinator Justine Kozo and Scripps Encinitas orthopedic physical therapist Tim Goldberg.

By definition, the team leader was a Rotarian and the other team members were non-Rotarians, ages 25 to 40, whose career paths may benefit from what they experience during the vocational, cultural and fellowship exchange, Kurth explained.

Based in Kenya and traveling around by van, the group visited hospitals, rural health care clinics, orphanages for HIV-positive children and abused children, boarding schools — many of which were for orphans — and day and residential centers for street boys.

They also visited the local Rotary-sponsored Jaipur Foot Project in Nairobi that has provided 5,000 amputees with artificial limbs. Kenya has a high number of amputations as a result of motor vehicle accidents and animal attacks.

They also visited a Rotary-sponsored school devoted to adult literacy. One grandmother wearing her school uniform told of being taken advantage of because she could not read and do simple arithmetic.

"But now," she said, "I know how to read and write and do my math and nobody can call me stupid."

In addition, the group made presentations to various Rotary Clubs and visited cultural locations, including Masai villages.

Kurth said the exchange was really about understanding the differences in our healthcare system and the healthcare system in Kenya.

"As most people would imagine, the resources are much more limited than we have in the United States," in the breadth of medications and equipment.

"We visited a 900-bed hospital that didn't even have a CT scanner or an ultrasound, yet what impressed me the most was the level of competency and the dedication and the passion of the medical staff there. I was amazed at what they were able to achieve with so little," Kurth said.

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