Yesterday was our first official day here in Kenya and what a productive one it was! Yesterday morning Molly and I traveled with Pooja, our local partner here in Kenya, to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi to meet with Dr. Miyanji, a pediatric neurologist who specializes in the treatment of epilepsy and developmental disabilities. In fact, Dr. Miyanji was the first neurologist in Kenya when he opened his practice here 30 years ago. At the time, his primary focus was on the treatment of epilepsy because he saw it as a treatable disorder for many of the more than 1 million Kenyans affected by it. Unfortunately, limited access to services has created a huge treatment gap for individuals with epilepsy with as many as 85% of those affected receiving no treatment. In considering the current state of autism diagnosis and treatment in Kenya, Dr. Miyanji said that he sees a similar situation today. For the majority of Kenyan families, going to a private doctor or clinic is not an option and there are few other medical options available in the current system of care. But all is not lost. With the support of dedicated physicians like Dr. Miyanji, parents of children with disabilities are stepping up to bridge these treatment gaps and get their children the quality care they deserve. This is how the Kenyan Association for the Welfare of People with Epilepsy (KAWE) started back in 1982 and it’s now the largest advocacy association in Africa. From the outset, parents and practitioners of KAWE recognized that in order for systemic change to happen, their mission needed to extend beyond providing people with epilepsy access to medical treatment. Thus, they embarked on education and advocacy efforts focused on raising awareness of and removing the social stigma associated with epilepsy – going door-to-door to raise awareness in Nairobi’s poorest slum areas and the developing comprehensive training programs for locally-trained medical practitioners. An outgrowth of these efforts was the creation of the Child Development Center (CDC) in 2007, created with the vision of bringing together practitioners from every discipline – neurology, psychology, psychiatry, speech, and many others – to provide comprehensive diagnostic and treatment services to the children of Kenya. Funding challenges mean most of the medical personnel who work at CDC are part-time but Dr. Miyanji believes the Center’s creation is a step in the right direction to closing the treatment gap for children with special needs. As the Global Autism Project has heard from many of its partners around the world, once you build a center – they will come. Dr. Miyanji told us that this is indeed the case when it comes to autism as more than 1/3 of new cases seen at the CDC are for autism-related diagnoses. And while diagnosis is critical, even more so is the availability of services to follow. With no “early intervention” system or funding support for such services, families are left to carry the financial burden on their own. Like us, Dr. Miyanji believes that sustainability and service growth must be developed through training efforts of local individuals – from nurse practitioners and doctors to teachers and parents. Through the work of KAWE and the CDC, Dr. Miyanji has done exactly this. And even better, he has committed his support to helping Pooja and her team at Kaizora Consultants in partnership with the Global Autism Project, replicate this success through a series of trainings at the CDC and two other area hospitals as well as the three universities in Nairobi! Such efforts underscore our mission to build capacity and sustainability in partner countries so we could not have been happier leaving our meeting. Plus, later this week we’ll be taking the Kaizora teaching staff and the rest of the SkillCorps team here in Kenya for a visit to the CDC so that we can see firsthand the work they’re doing. Pretty awesome start to the trip with many more exciting days to come!