“I feel happy and determined to help build my nation,” says medical trainer and founder of Kajo Keji Health Training Institute (KKHTI), Dr. Lou Louis Koboji, 32, of South Sudan.
His sentiment is only the beginning of what sets his team of doctors-in-training apart from other international responses addressing the critical need for healthcare and basic services in this war affected region.
South Sudan has only about 120 doctors for an estimated population of nearly nine million people. Tweet This Quote
After an independence referendum in 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation, but it knows little other than civil war. In December 2013, the majority of the country plunged into violent conflict stemming from a political row between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Thus, what was already a weak healthcare system has been further destroyed or neglected, leaving hundreds of thousands without medical care in a time when it’s needed most.
Founded in 2013, KKHTI seeks to fortify this fragile system by creating an accelerated way to train students in medicine for $1000 USD per student per year—one fifth of the cost of traditional medical training programs in the region.
“We do not need to send our children out of the country to get medical training,” says Koboji. “Let’s educate them locally to create sustainability for our health training program.”
South Sudan has the 4th fastest population growth rate in the world. Tweet This Quote
Applicants must have completed secondary school, the equivalent to high school. KKHTI trains around 120 students a year, working toward three-year diplomas in either clinical medicine and public health or medical laboratory technology. During their training, students assist accredited staff doctors in the clinics and hospitals, educating the public about water sanitation and communicable diseases. Once they earn their diplomas, they often return to work in the communities where they grew up.
As reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to the Ministry of Health, South Sudan has about 120 medical doctors for an estimated population of nearly nine million people—a number that continues to rise in the fourth fastest growing nation in the world. In neighboring Kenya, for instance, there are 14 doctors per 100,000 people—10 times the ratio of South Sudan. Vulnerable groups like women, children and the wounded are particularly at risk. In fact, South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Tweet This Quote
“I saw a mother die in delivery and many more die from malaria, which is endemic in South Sudan,” says Koboji on a return trip to his home country prior to founding KKHTI in 2011. He attended Makerere University in Uganda on scholarship, where he earned a degree in biomedical laboratory technology. “I thought, these are preventable deaths, and I have to return to teach others how to treat them.”
Koboji knows what it is to be at the mercy of a hospital staff. As a child, he suffered from bone cancer and was told in order to save his life, the doctors would have to amputate his legs. His uncle considered this a wrong diagnosis and refused the treatment. After seeking out the best facility he could find, Koboji was transferred and cared for with alternative methods for over three years. He studied from his bed before he was well enough to attend university and has been committed to improving healthcare ever since.
Prior to founding KKHTI, he gained an in-depth understanding of the entire South Sudan health system through roles within local government and the South Sudan Ministry of Health. He realized that government entities needed to grant the diplomas to his students because they offer legitimate and invaluable support while operating in volatile conditions. By forging and maintain these key relationships, Koboji continues to garner success compared to foreign aid.
Our responsibility in the world is to see that others live better. Tweet This Quote
For example, medical practitioners under organizations like Doctors Without Borders operate in lower numbers after direct attacks on their facilities. Although hospitals and other places meant to shelter civilians from hostilities are specifically protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), these rules have been violated repeatedly throughout the current conflict in South Sudan. Koboji leverages his citizenship and ability to form alliances with the government to avoid being a target. The depletion of outside aid makes the mission of his organization clear and indispensable.
“We are addressing the development goals of the nation like maternal healthcare and malaria outbreak,” says Koboji. “We are doing the groundwork.” In addition to the current degree courses, he plans to add one specifically for midwifery. “Our responsibility in the world is to see that others live better.”
By the end of 2016, 50 students will graduate. They’ll also admit another round of students for a total of 175—an increase since operations began, and they continue to scale as they procure more resources such as staff, funding and educational materials.