In retirement, a urologist finds a new career bringing health care to rural Kenya
Three years ago, Ralph F. Stroup, M.D., HS ’73, a retired urologist, stepped out of his comfort zone and into the village of Chumvi, Kenya, home to nomadic Maasai pastoralists. Accustomed to providing state-of-the-art medical care, Stroup was struck by the reality of the primitive health care conditions he encountered. Here in Kenya’s Central Highlands, women were giving birth in huts without running water or electricity while herds of cattle and goats roamed outside. The situation tugged at Stroup’s heartstrings. The result is Kenyan Health Care Initiatives (KHCI), a humanitarian effort affiliated with the nonprofit organization International Consultants and Associates. Stroup has been raising funds to improve health care in two rural towns in this East African country.
Stroup did not foresee during his first visit to Kenya in 2008 that he would soon be deeply involved in creating educational programs, raising awareness, and soliciting funds to support basic health care infrastructure and clean water acquisition in the Central Highlands of Kenya. At the time, Stroup had traveled to Nanyuki, Kenya—a town of about 31,000 three and a half hours north of Nairobi—to help facilitate a workshop for health care workers on techniques for community mobilization against HIV/aids. Then came an invitation from his hosts to visit the Laikipia District north of Mount Kenya, home to thousands of Maasai who follow the water as they graze their cattle and goats. Water has been increasingly hard to obtain due to several years of severe drought, and the Maasai are just beginning to recover from the loss of nearly 70 percent of their herds—their main source of income and food.
During Stroup’s first visit to the Laikipia District, he traveled more than two bone-jarring hours by safari van along cattle paths to reach Chumvi, where a small health care clinic provides primary care to 8,000 people. The clinic, staffed by a full-time nurse, faced closure due to lack of funding, and Stroup promised to find funds in the United States. “I am a firm believer in finding ways to connect people with people, and resources with people, so that we can greatly enhance the accessibility of good-level primary health care in these remote areas,” said Stroup. Stroup came through, and he now provides about $5,000 of support to the clinic each year through KHCI.
The Chumvi clinic opened a new two-bed maternity unit in July. Stroup’s efforts also support another clinic in nearby Lokusero that serves about 9,000 Maasai. The clinic was an unfinished shell when Stroup first visited in August 2008; however, his initiative has raised money for construction, including two outhouses and nurses’ quarters, as well as the purchase of furniture and medical equipment.
Stroup works on a shoestring budget and does all of his own fundraising. He spreads the word about his efforts to church groups, local medical societies, and Rotary Clubs in southern Connecticut. Although all the donations are relatively small, Stroup brings in about $15,000 to $20,000 per year for the projects in Nanyuki and Lokusero. Stroup’s motivation is simple: “Immersion experiences like this have been life-changing for me. I now have a group of friends who have irrevocably changed who I am as a person,” he said.
For a man who is retired, Stroup finds plenty to keep him busy aside from helping out his Maasai friends. Although Stroup spent his career in a private urology practice with four other physicians in New Haven, he has always had a clinical faculty appointment at Yale. Stroup is an assistant clinical professor in surgery (urology) at the School of Medicine and works part time as the attending in charge of the urology residents’ clinic. Stroup also makes time for more leisurely pursuits, including gardening, travel, photography, and volunteer work. He also enjoys visiting his grandchildren with his wife, Mary Ann, who served as the charge nurse when an ambulatory surgery center first opened at Yale-New Haven Hospital in the 1980s, and who now works part time as a school nurse.
Stroup said the most agonizing issue troubling the people of Lokusero is a lack of running water, even though the government installed a well in 2009. The well pump runs on diesel fuel, which the community can’t afford. At the top of Stroup’s priority list is obtaining funds for a solar-powered well pump. He has raised half the $20,000 for the pump and is determined to raise the rest of the money by the end of the year. “The Maasai of Laikipia District have experienced great hardship during the past two years,” he said, “and clearly their needs for the basics of life—clean water, adequate food, access to health care, and health care education—are an ongoing issue.”