They say two things change the world: people with enough fortitude, conviction and ability; and ideas of how the world can be. The same can be said of the Clinical Information Network, which was established by a small group of people with an unwavering commitment to improving child health in the country.
We spoke to one of these people, Prof. Fred Were, a long-serving member and Chair of KPA. Prof. Were does not only possess a rich understanding of CIN’s institutional history, but also played an instrumental role in its formative stages and still plays a significant role to this day.
Q: How did the Partnership between KPA and KEMRI-Wellcome start and how was CIN birthed?
Prof. Were: This partnership started in the mid-1990s. At that time, the Kenya Paediatric Association had almost collapsed, and we were looking for ways to revive it. Around the same time Prof. Mike English was moving from Kilifi to Nairobi and had developed a keen interest on things going on at KPA. As we were rejuvenating KPA, we decided to open up membership to researchers and non-clinicians and, to our joy, researchers from KEMRI-Wellcome aggressively joined KPA. Previously, KPA was associated with the University of Nairobi. In the revival we needed to interest all paediatricians and had a goal of involving them in research activities so that we could further the goal of improving child health in the country. So, in a nutshell, the partnership started because we needed to wake-up a dormant organisation that had been there since 1968, with an expanded focus beyond conferencing, but looking at how else we could improve the lives of children in the country.
Q: How has the partnership evolved
Prof. Were: The relationship has deepened. We started off as people who were concerned with furthering the interests of children. As we have grown, KPA and KEMRI-Wellcome have furthered the relationship beyond that. We have now come into big projects that we do together. The growth has been phenomenal, from the goals of waking up a dormant institution to the establishment of the Kenya Paediatric Research Consortium (KEPRECON); the research wing of the KPA. All along this growth, we have had KEMRI-Wellcome with us, I can not remember a major activity that they were not part of. Together I have seen us grow from a Continuous Medical Education (CME) organisation, to the realisation that CME alone cannot influence policy and practice and ultimately improve child health in the country. Since around 1997, when I became the chair of KPA, I have seen tremendous growth in the partnership with KEMRI-Wellcome.
Q: What value does KPA and KEMRI-Wellcome derive from the partnership?
Prof. Were: The relationship with KEMRI-Wellcome has given KPA international prominence and visibility. The relationship makes us leaders in the industry. KEMRI-Wellcome gains a foothold to a robust professional body with members drawn from the 47 counties. In a sense, we have given ourselves visa-free entry into each other’s lives.
Q: What would you say is the key highlight of this partnership?
Prof Were: As KPA, within our framework of work, we never knew that we could get funds for research. When KEMRI-Wellcome provided us with our very first sub-grant of 20,000 U$D back then, we never knew that a different world of possibilities would open up to us. Since then, we have gone on to do bigger things, including the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in Kenya, but I will always remember that first grant.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have encountered over the years, and how did you work around them?
Prof Were: When we decided to create the KEPRECON away from what we call the political KPA. At times KEPRECON is better understood by KEMRI-Wellcome than members from KPA. From time to time, we have had to explain these nuances and differences to our members.
Q: What is the next big thing in the relationship?
Prof Were: For the first time, we initiated a funding opportunity from the KEPRECON side and advanced a slice to KEMRI-Wellcome; otherwise, it has always been the other way around. The next big thing is to get the CIN to have a home outside the KEMRI-Wellcome environment. By that we mean, that the government should take it over, with KPA and KEMRI-Wellcome staying on as experts. We need to persuade the government of the day that they are the ones who should handle this. If this happens within my lifetime, I can handover over the legacy to those who were born after me.
This interview was original published in the July 2021 edition of the CIN newsletter.
The Clinical Information Network (CIN) is a collaboration between the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP), the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Kenya Paediatric Association (KPA), the Kenya Paediatric Research Consortium (KEPRECON), and participating County Hospitals in Kenya. CIN was established in 2013 to support the use of information to improve hospital care for children and newborns admitted to county hospitals, and to further guide policy and practice in each county in Kenya.