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Afya Elimu Fund Is Boosting Kenya’s Health Workforce—and Reigniting a Young Mother’s Dream

Beatrice Mudhai

Beatrice Mudhai is one nurse who's helping to fill Kenya's shortage of health workers, thanks to the financial aid that helped her pay her school fees. Photo by Ida Rob for IntraHealth International.

Affordable loans are helping students like Beatrice stay in school.

For 19-year-old Beatrice Mudhai, the youngest child in a family of 10, money has always been stretched. So much so that she had to wait three years before joining college. During the gap years, Beatrice conceived her first child, Norelle.

“It was one of the most difficult times in my life, a mixed bag of joy and gloom,” Beatrice says. “I was glad to be a mother, but not ready to marry the father of my child, as we were both very young with no means to support the child.”

At this time, Beatrice was living in Landi Mawe in Nairobi’s Eastlands area, with her sister.

“During my pregnancy, I had to fend for my sister and myself by selling groceries at the local market,” she says.

A new mother in nursing school

Determined to further her education, in March 2011, Beatrice left her young baby in her mother’s care and enrolled at Mukumu School of Nursing, Kakamega, to pursue her dream—a diploma in nursing.

Kenya has an acute shortage of health workers, which seriously undermines the country’s ability to achieve universal health coverage. The health worker-to-population ratio stands at 1.54 to 1,000, while the World Health Organization recommends at least 2.3 to 1,000.

Kenya needs more health workers.

The country needs more health workers graduating from health professional programs and joining the workforce. Unfortunately, 42% of the population lives below the poverty line, and college education is a luxury. The average training fees per year in a medical training college are generally KES 122,500 (US$1,225), which is beyond the reach of most Kenyans.

During the course of her program, Beatrice struggled to pay her fees. She was in and out of school, taking on odd jobs to make ends meet. Despite her hard work, her hopes to complete her studies were almost dashed in 2015 as she approached her final semester with no money to pay her fees.

Having depleted her family’s resources, she despaired.

The Afya Elimu Fund

Then on an ordinary afternoon, Beatrice was summoned to the college laboratory where she first heard of the Afya Elimu Fund. Her lecturer described the program—which provides affordable loans for health professional students in Kenya—and encouraged the students to apply.

“I followed the presentation halfheartedly,” she says, “but applied nonetheless.”

Two months later, Beatrice received a call from the principal notifying her that her application was successful. She had been awarded a loan of KES 55,000—the highest in her batch.

Now, almost two years after her graduation, Beatrice is an accomplished nurse working at St. Monica Mission Hospital in Kisumu, in the HIV Comprehensive Care Center.

“I love my job,” she says. “Every day, I get to help people.”

Beatrice started repaying her loan two months after her graduation in December 2015.

I love my job. Every day, I get to help people.

“I gave my mother my first salary, so she could bless it,” she says. (This is a common cultural practice in Kenya to honor a parent.) “I then started repaying back the loan the following month, and I want to finish paying my loan so I can give another student a chance to achieve their dreams.”

Beatrice is newly married and a doting mother to her daughters, Norelle (now 8 years old) and Natalie (7 months). She is grateful to the Afya Elimu Fund for giving her dream a chance. And she intends to finish repaying her loan by the end of this year, so as to enable her take another loan and pursue a degree that will allow her to specialize as an operating theatre nurse.

The Afya Elimu Fund has supported over 12,500 needy students since its establishment in 2013. Of those, 2,478 have graduated and 62% of those employed are repaying back their loans. The Afya Elimu Fund is a joint venture between IntraHealth International’s US Agency for International Development-funded HRH Kenya Mechanism (previously FUNZOKenya project), the Higher Education Loans Board, as well as local private-sector contributors. Other partners include the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Devolution and Planning.