CHARLES WACHIRA, BIRD STORY AGENCY
WHEN Naom Monari worked as a student nurse at Gatundu Level 5 Hospital in central Kenya in 2016, she observed that the hospital struggled to provide enough beds for patients. This was exacerbated by those receiving non-urgent medical attention but still taking up valuable bed space.
“Some of the patients in the wards were simply receiving services such as wound-dressing, bathing or simply taking drugs to manage a condition. This meant that others who were facing life-threatening infections were left in limbo, with no bed available for them,” said Monari.
One day while doing her ward rounds, she encountered a patient with a foot infection resulting from diabetes. The elderly man had been in the ward for a long time.
She approached the patient’s son, who was also working at the hospital and proposed an idea to him.
“I told him I could take care of his father while he’s home-based, but for a fee,” Monari said.
The idea turned out to be seminal as word started getting around that patients suffering from non-life-threatening diseases could receive compassionate, reliable, clinical and supportive care from the comfort of their homes.
A year later, she officially registered Bena Care Limited, a brand name she coined from her daughter’s name – Beata – and hers, Naom.
The organisation, which has a tagline that reads ‘Healthcare at Your Doorstep,’ has to date attended to an estimated 6,000 patients. Patients are not only provided with affordable home care but also have the opportunity to purchase second-hand homecare equipment far more cheaply than it would cost new.
For a patient to be onboarded to Bena Care, the caregiver signs a contract with Bena that guarantees the nurses are licensed and possess a certificate of good conduct. Indemnity insurance cover is also signed.
“So as to protect our nurses, we insist that they document everything they do while attending to a patient so that in the event of a court case, the organisation has something tangible to fall back to as a defence,” said Monari.
Fatima Ali Omar, 69, has been in and out of hospital since early 2021. She was admitted to a local private hospital in Nairobi “while she was very sick from a lung infection,” explained Lucky Omar, her daughter.
“But I could tell that she was not receiving the full attention that she was requiring and I was getting frustrated. Some day while I was in the hospital, I Googled for home care hospital services that were located within Nairobi. And I got several organisations but in the end, I was convinced Bena Care had what – as a family – we were searching for,” said Omar.
Omar is still in mourning for her mother, who died in May 2023 after being under the watch of Bena nurses for one and a half years.
“Bena Care provide one aspect that a lot of caretaking organisations lack, namely dignity for a patient, for the ailing have to be bathed, taken to the washroom and so on. And the Bena care nurses provide these delicate services diligently,” she said.
Another client Ali Omar, 72, was afflicted by a stroke in 2020. He went on to suffer a spinal injury which deteriorated with time while trying to recuperate at a local hospital. The hospital fees skyrocketed to Ksh 2 million (US$ 14,400).
“As a family, we were stressed. That was a lot of money, yet Dad was not getting any better. That is when somebody told us about Bena Care, and we gave the organisation a try. And, honestly, the services are fantastic. Dad has since become much better, for he can digest food now, as opposed to the past, when he could not and the cost has been halved,” said his daughter.
There are now numerous home-based care medical organisations across Kenya to help the citizens navigate the high cost of healthcare in the country. Bena Care has managed to differentiate itself by focusing on a gap in the market.
“Bena Care is bridging this gap by providing supportive and clinical care to chronically ill patients in the low-income areas. With the main focus being rural Kenya, where a family member may be in need of long-term care, necessitating another family member to step up and to play a caregiving role,” said Monari.
Kenya’s healthcare delivery system is pluralistic, with a 50%-50% split between public and private healthcare providers organised into four general tiers: community, primary care, county referral and national referral hospitals.
“We have improved our efficiencies by setting up a healthcare technology app called @ benacare, which is a digital platform that geo maps nurses and physiotherapists drawn from across the country, who then take care of patients from the comfort of their homes,” explained Monari, who bootstrapped Bena Care to fruition.
The online platform also links families needing homecare appliances to families possessing used equipment.
“We are planning to replicate this model we are using here in Kenya to other African countries in future. But for now, we have a lot of territory to cover here in Kenya for our nurses are found in seven out of the 47 counties,” Monari said.
In 2022, Monari won the Waislitz Global Citizen Disruptor Award, a US$50,000 prize that recognises the excellence of individuals in their work to end extreme poverty. The award helped her continue building out the platform and service she has worked so hard to develop.