Esther Kamau likes to joke that she didn’t join RefugePoint, but that RefugePoint joined her. This is because Esther was the first person RefugePoint (then Mapendo International) hired after Sasha Chanoff and Dr. John Wagacha Burton founded the organization in 2005.
Leaving behind a comfortable, stable career as a staff clinician in the private sector, Esther joined the nascent organization as a full time clinical officer. In her position, she provided the most vulnerable refugees in Nairobi with emergency medical care and referrals to critical health services. Among her first clients were dozens of refugees who had been denied resettlement due to their HIV positive status.
Nine years later, Esther is still with the organization and continues to make a significant impact in refugees’ lives throughout Nairobi. Promoted to manager of RefugePoint’s medical unit, Esther oversees the organization’s on-site medical clinic, Community Health Worker program, public health research initiatives, and the medical unit staff. Daily, the clinic provides between 25-30 vulnerable urban refugees with direct treatment, prescriptions, and/or hospital referrals. In 2013, the medical clinic exceeded its goal of treating 1,350 refugees by more than 38%. Most commonly, RefugePoint medical staff diagnosed and treated respiratory illnesses, peptic ulcer disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
Esther’s most notable achievement this year has been her successful brokering with Kenya’s National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to allow refugees in the country access to the same medical insurance benefits as Kenyans. For the first time ever, all refugees will be eligible to access insurance through the national health care system for approximately US $2 per month.
“This development follows two years of persistent negotiation and advocacy by Esther and her entire medical team,” said RefugePoint Urban Program Coordinator Paul Karanja. “Under her leadership, she has not only improved the lives of our refugee clients, but she has brought healthcare to thousands more.”
Last month, RefugePoint’s community health workers hosted staff from NHIF at a community forum in Kayole, a refugee neighborhood in Nairobi. At the event, NHIF explained to refugee families the benefits of enrollment and, as a result, 34 families completed the paperwork and began paying the premium immediately. In the months ahead, RefugePoint will continue to host similar forums in partnership with NHIF, the UN Refugee Agency, and other NGOs to ensure that more refugees are aware of the change and are able to access similar benefits.
Throughout her tenure with the organization, Esther’s visionary leadership has been rooted in the belief that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for assisting refugees does not exist. She explained, “Almost every day has been a learning experience. We serve a diverse population of refugees with a variety of traumas and needs, but also strengths. Listening to [refugees] helps us create more targeted solutions.”