Sisters Open New Female-Run Clinic in Nairobi to Help the Poor

By Natalie Walters

Lorna and Elizabeth, sisters and owners of St. Catherine of Sienna Medical Center on the south side of Nairobi. Lorna is a clinical officer, and Elizabeth is an OB-GYN resident.

Elizabeth was working part-time in a hospital in Nairobi while completing her gynecology residency when she realized she wanted to do something more to help her community. Over the years, she had grown frustrated by the number of doctors in private practices who ran unnecessary tests to make extra money off of their trusting patients. So she decided to take action on their behalf and work to combat that issue. But to do it right, she needed her sister, Lorna. Together, they opened the new St. Catherine of Sienna medical center just outside of Nairobi.

“It was scary at first,” Elizabeth said about opening the clinic. “Really scary.”

But their mission to put people first instead of money kept them going. Even when people who can’t pay show up to the clinic, St. Catherine’s still helps them. “We don’t feel comfortable turning away people who are ill but can’t pay,” Lorna said.

When you look around the clinic, you can tell it’s new from both how fresh the paint is and from how modern it looks with the minimalist decor of white walls and bright blue trim. And looking around, you will also find two additional employees, who are also female. All four women are quiet, looking to each other to answer questions rather than speaking up first, yet they are all also very lively, laughing hard and often.

Susan, a nurse, and Angela, a lab tech, both work at St. Catherine's

Banda fit right in with the women’s mission to put people over profits. They liked that Banda was new and constantly improving just like them so they could both grow together. One of the most important ways Banda has helped the clinic is by alerting them to which drugs are running low even when they aren’t at the clinic. 

“Before Banda, we didn’t know which drugs to buy more of,” Elizabeth said. “This is important because the pharmacy is where we make most of our money.” 

To advertise their new clinic, the women hosted a medical camp in the slum nearby this past April. At first, people were hesitant to come because they had been tricked into attending other “free” medical camps before, only to be told they had to pay once they had been treated. But after a few people came by and saw that St. Catherine’s clinic was actually free, word quickly spread. In one day, 200 people visited the mobile clinic setup. 

“It was very, very challenging,” Elizabeth said. “I felt like I was back in the hospital.” 

Elizabeth, or "Joka" as friends and family call her, is currently completing her OB-GYN residency in western Kenya. We were fortunate to catch her during one of her breaks, during which she heads back to Nairobi to work at the clinic. After residency, she will come back to work full time at St. Catherine's.
The team at St. Catherine of Sienna Medical Center. We had such a fun time chatting with these women, and we look forward to seeing what they do with their clinic for their community.

But the camp worked. After that day at the medical camp, the number of patients improved to about ten per day. In the future, they hope to own their own hospital with a theatre (operating room), maternity ward, and cancer ward. But they know they have to be diligent and work hard to get there. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Elizabeth said. “You have to be patient.” 

Elizabeth sharing the vision for St. Catherine's, and the challenges they anticipate along the way. Chief among those challenges, for St. Catherine's and so many other clinics, is patients' frequent inability to pay. How do you stay in business while providing treatment and services at a cost your patients can actually afford? That's where Banda Go comes in, helping Elizabeth and Lorna run a tight ship at St. Catherine's, so they can keep providing low-cost, high-quality treatment to their patients for years to come.

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Natalie Walters

Natalie Walters

A journalist from New York, Natalie is helping write stories about the clinics using Banda Go.