STEP Story: Hannah Connolly

SM2, SUNY Upstate Medical University
Kisumu East/West Sub-County, June 5-27, 2017

Since taking a course in college titled “The Politics of Reproduction,” co-taught by a Biology Professor and Sociology Professor, I have not been conceptualize clinical medicine and the social context of communities and individuals as two separate entities. To me, the two are constantly informing and influencing each other. It is at FACES, where I found a multi-disciplinary team of incredibly passionate, intelligent people, who are committed to addressing the social and structural determinants of health so that quality care is provided to the patients they serve. I felt re-energized every time I walked into the clinic.

Over the past two months, I have been working on a pilot project that seeks to elucidate the social, cultural, and clinical components that are associated with perinatal mortalities in Kisumu County. The project relies on a social autopsy tool to gather quantitative and qualitative information from next of kin to more fully understand the medical history and social circumstances preceding the perinatal mortality. I was tasked with working with FACES sub-county teams and Ministry of Health officials on how best to roll out our pilot. Together, we recruited a cohort of Community Health Volunteers and nurses, who were assigned to carry out interviews at households, which experienced a recent perinatal mortality, in the communities they serve. With support from my mentors, I designed and led trainings on the social autopsy tool at each of our four targeted sub-counties. Interviews have now been completed and collected, and we are moving on to the data analysis phase of the pilot. In the upcoming weeks, I look forward to exploring the insights gained from the interviews, which can be translated into interventions.

Some of my favorite moments within this program have been the conversations about experiences of healthcare shared over chai and chapatti at the canteen, making up the words to Luo songs while playing with pediatrics patients at Saturday morning Kids’ Camp, and long car rides on bumpy dirt roads that were filled with smiles and waves from villagers.

Kisumu town, itself, has provided us with many opportunities for weeknight dinners with new friends, beautiful panoramic sunsets over Lake Victoria, invitations to join netball and volleyball games at the local sports club, and learning to make traditional Kenyan meals with the staff at our hostel. Chris, the other STEP student, and I also explored the incredible landscape that Kenya offers. Connecting with both travelers and local Kenyans, we made the most of our weekends and were able to raft the Nile in Uganda, bike through Hell’s Gate National Park, go on safari in the Maasai Mara, and brave the eight-hour matatu rides on the way home.

The STEP program provided a perfect, comprehensive introduction to global health research and program implementation. My hope is to complete a yearlong research fellowship between my third and fourth year of medical school and return to Kisumu to more fully immerse myself in this place, its people, and this project. I’m incredibly grateful to my mentors and the greater FACES team, who both warmly welcomed and supported me through this experience.