Fred Odawo will forever remember the events of Tuesday, March 21, 2017. That day, at around 3:30 pm, he gleefully swapped his manual wheelchair for a motorized one. For nearly three decades, the administrator at JKUAT’s College of Health Sciences (COHES), relied on friends to push him around; into office, washrooms and eateries.
The motorized wheelchair was therefore a literal game changer for Fred. He was gaining autonomy; getting back his dignity. And he did this in full presence of his colleagues at the COHES, led by the Principal, Prof. Haroun Mengech.
“I have had to rely on friends to push me around from early 90s. This device therefore embodies my freedom to move independently. It is a great psychological boost,” said Fred
Fred who has had to change manual wheelchairs every three years said the motorized device would enable him to attend meetings, get to work on time and even go for lunch.
As he handed over the wheelchair, Prof. Mengech lauded Fred; observing that despite his physical challenge, he remained a dedicated staff whose service delivery could be vouched for by both students and staff.
But even as Fred was making the digital switch, Prof. Mengech noted that many Kenyans living with disabilities could not access assistive devices. He noted that prohibitive cost of imported assistive devices has put the essential instruments out of reach for many Kenyans.
Even after the Government of Kenya made a commitment towards universal access to healthcare, Prof. Mengech said people living with disabilities still faced challenges relating to education, rehabilitative healthcare and environmental obstacles.
Prof. Haroun Mengech then challenged research institutions in Kenya to pioneer innovations that could be deployed to make life easier for people living with various disabilities. JKUAT, he noted had resident innovative capacity and could rally a multidisciplinary team to look into the concerns and engineer local solutions.
The National Council for Persons with Disabilities NCPWD Program Officer, Alex Munyere said besides high costs, the imported devices, mostly from China, were not made with African terrain in mind; a situation that he added, created opportunities for Kenyan institutions to fabricate the tools locally.
Munyere said NCPWD is willing to work with institutions such JKUAT to come up with sustainable homegrown solutions to alleviate the suffering of Kenyans living with various forms of disabilities.
The KSh. 195,000 device was purchased from contributions of COHES staff with NCPWD putting in KSh. 100, 000. The fundraising was spearheaded by Mwangi Matheri, a Lecturer at COHES, Department of Rehabilitative Sciences.
NCPWD in a 2008 report estimates that 4.8% Kenyans live with various forms of disabilities while the World Health Organization reports that about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, with 2-4% experiencing significant difficulties in functioning.