Novartis employees return from volunteer healthcare mission in rural Kenya


 Two employees of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc. (Novartis) in Dorval have returned home after a volunteer healthcare mission to Kenya during which they helped deliver much-needed healthcare services to rural areas of the African country.

Novartis established the International Volunteer Program (IVP) in 2009 to give Canadian associates the opportunity to work with a Novartis-sponsored health initiative in the developing world. This year, Patricia Tiramani and Tina Patafie were selected. While Novartis subsidized travel costs and volunteering days, both committed their own time for much of the three-week volunteering mission.

“The International Volunteering Program (IVP) allows us to extend employee engagement and corporate responsibility beyond our local footprint in Canada by enabling support to critical projects in other regions. We are proud that the IVP has been running in Canada for seven years and demonstrates the breadth of what can be accomplished when employers and volunteer organizations work together to help the global community,” said Tim Maloney, President, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.

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Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada volunteer Tina Patafie helps guide a cart carrying supplies to the Karucho Primary School in Kenya prior to a health camp organized by the Novartis-sponsored group Familia Nawiri.

Patricia, a Communications Manager at the Dorval head office, and Tina, a Sales Representative on Montreal’s West Island, chose to work with the Familia Nawiri (Healthy Families) program, a Novartis “social venture.” Social ventures like this are designed to build local and sustainable solutions that address healthcare challenges for communities in the developing world by tackling the issues that impact access to healthcare, such as education, infrastructure and distribution.

Familia Nawiri health camps

One of the major ways Familia Nawiri brings health services to Kenyans in rural and hard to reach areas is through health camps that are set up on weekends in rural schools. “I think of the camps as a pop-up hospital,” said Patricia. “The Familia Nawiri through a contracted Third Party team sets up a clinic while the school is empty on the weekend and provides vital clinical services, tests and preventative care, as well as dispensing much-needed medications. It is incredible what they can do during one day.”

Since the beginning of 2016, the health camps have served 6,860 patients. By the end of 2016, Familia Nawiri aims to have hosted 90 Health Camps in Kenya. “Having medical tests done and access to reliable medications is a vital part of the service, particularly since there is a wide problem in Kenya of stock outs at the public facilities  and unsafe medication on the open market.” said Tina.

Novartis first developed the Healthy Families (Arogya Parivar) model in 2007 in India and has since expanded the model to Indonesia, Vietnam and Kenya. Familia Nawiri was launched in Kenya in 2012.

Giving to communities in need

“It’s one thing to read about or watch videos about the conditions in rural Africa but seeing it first-hand is very eye-opening,” said Patricia. “Simple things can have profound consequences. For example, many rural schools don’t have water, which can affect the quality of education. Simple acts like washing hands become very difficult when hundreds of students don’t have access to running water.”

Patricia and Tina also helped organize community health education meetings organized and facilitated by Familia Nawiri’s Community Health Facilitators. During these meetings different health issues such as blood pressure, rational use of medicines, appropriate health seeking behaviors and diabetes were presented and discussed. Patricia and Tina also made a very welcome donation of school supplies to the schools where the health camps were held. The items were collected from their fellow Canadian Novartis colleagues before they left.

“It was an incredible learning experience for us and we are looking forward to see how we can continue to help now that we are back home,” said Tina. “Kenyan communities need health programs that are sustainable to ensure long-term benefit.”

About the International Volunteer Program

Through this program, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc. has been extending its local community commitment to other communities in need around the globe by selecting and sponsoring associates each year to contribute their expertise as a free resource to one of many global partnerships. The program started in 2009 when one associate was chosen to participate in the Novartis “SMS for Life” program which provides greater access to life-saving malaria medicines for people in Tanzania. Since then employees have volunteered to work with programs in Indonesia, Vietnam, Argentina and India as well as Kenya.



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