Forging Collaborations on an International Scale – MCRC Visit Kenya
Between the 6th and 9th of June 2022, members of the MCRC Strategic Team along with representatives from The University of Manchester and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust visited multiple sites across Kenya to further develop a Manchester-Kenya research collaboration.
The delegation’s visit follows the signing of multiple Memoranda of Understanding in 2020 with Kenyatta University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH) and strengthened in 2021, as well as multiple visits by senior leaders to both Manchester and Kenya. The aim of this most recent visit was to advance a Kenya-centred research collaboration that focuses on improving oesophageal cancer outcomes.
The members of the delegation, Rachel Chown, Dr Suzanne Johnson, Dr Pedro Oliveira, and Dr Sinéad Savage collected their thoughts and takeaways on sites they visited for the duration of their stay.
Day one – Monday 6th June 2022
After a few days of exploring and travelling around Kenya, the first day of our trip was focused on visiting Kenyatta University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH) in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. We were able to see the new breast cancer centre that was inspired by the Nightingale hospital in Wythenshawe, as well as the molecular imaging centre, radiotherapy facilities, A&E department and a busy cancer ward.
To set up any successful collaboration, it is important to meet as many specialists and leaders from across the organisation as possible. As our collaboration with Kenya began during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve met a lot of people already virtually, but through visiting Kenya, we have become even more acquainted with our future colleagues.
We were also given the opportunity to meet with Professor Olive Mugenda, Chairperson of KUTRRH, Professor George Njoroge, Idah Kinya, and Issac Kamau to set out the future expectations of our collaboration. Our discussions were very fruitful and have helped us gain a greater understanding of the Kenyan healthcare environment.
Physically, meeting our UK-collaborators and charting way forward to actualise our research mission was a great step in moving the oesophageal project forward. We were all very excited in identifying numerous capabilities and capacities that both the Kenyan and UK team uniquely possessed: attributes that we initially were not aware of. The meeting allowed us to generate better clarity for the project: this will result in greater efficiency that will lead to great success.
Dr F. George Njoroge
Chief Scientific Advisor, KUTRRH
Any collaboration is only as strong as the relationships between individuals and organisations. The opportunity to meet our Kenyan colleagues face-to-face, and see their facilities and ways of working has been an essential step in strengthening ties at all levels. We were very graciously welcomed by everyone at KUTRRH, and through meeting counterparts and touring the hospital, we saw so many areas of synergy, as well as learned about a great number of initiatives we would like to replicate back in Manchester.
Dr Sinéad Savage
Strategic Research and Partnerships Lead, Manchester Cancer Research Centre
Day two – Tuesday 7th June 2022
It was essential during this visit that we developed connections which would lead to clearer insights into the hugely diverse Kenyan population and enable us to work closely together with community representatives to design effective strategies for engagement. With a population of around 54 million spread out over an approximate 580,000 km^2, reaching the populations who are most at risk of cancer is a mammoth task for Patient, Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) colleagues. Those connections are vital to reach the more rural communities and raise awareness of early cancer symptoms.
On the second day of our visit, our aim was to understand more about what infrastructure and engagement is already established. To this end, we met clinical and community representatives from five of Kenya’s 47 counties to better understand the demographics, geography and community identities to help identify and co-create the best strategies for PPIE. Through open discussion, we were able to gain insights and start to identify the challenges and opportunities that currently exist. Now we can work together to build greater awareness and understanding which will ultimately help to improve outcomes of those individuals affected by oesophageal cancer.
It was so inspiring and encouraging to realise that the ethos of collaboration was echoed by our Kenyan partners; we are truly working in harmony. There is a clear and shared understanding that effective Community Engagement is vital for the success of future projects.
Dr Suzanne Johnson
Lecturer, Division of Cancer Sciences, University of Manchester
Day three – Wednesday 8th June 2022
On our third day, our delegation split into two teams: Rachel and Suz visited Nakuru county, a county 160 km north west of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, while Sinéad and Pedro stayed at KUTRRH to tour the facilities in the laboratories.
Out in Nakuru county, we were again reminded of the importance of local engagement on the county level in improving outcomes for patients with cancer. We met the Governor of Nakuru to discuss important cancer prevention tactics including screening, lifestyle risks and the causes of cancer. We were able to tour the County Hospital, which recently opened a new Cancer Centre with facilities available to treat patients, including brachytherapy. We also spent time at a community health centre and met with community members, health volunteers and co-ordinators to learn about the impressive health surveillance structure which is established there.
Meanwhile, Sinéad and Pedro met with the pathology team at KUTRRH in Nairobi. One of their key takeaways was the major advantage of having similar equipment in the laboratories and the techniques used by teams between Manchester and Kenya. These similarities will make collaborations easier in the future and enable more seamless knowledge sharing between Manchester and Kenya.
Day four – Thursday 9th June 2022
Our final day in Kenya was focused on training the next generation of cancer clinicians and specialists. We discussed building capacity in both endoscopy and pathology within Kenya, including cross-country training initiatives which are already underway, as well as current plans for clinical fellows from KUTRRH to train in Manchester with The Christie and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. There are many mutual learnings that can be developed by both our Kenyan colleagues and our Manchester-based clinicians while visiting other facilities, and we’re excited to develop them in future collaborations.
Following this, it was a speedy trip to the airport and a flight home to Manchester that brought our visit in Kenya to a close. Overall, it was an essential experience to witness first-hand the facilities available and meet with the leadership team to further develop opportunities for international collaboration between Kenya and Manchester. It was extremely fruitful to meet with the team and we’d like to thank everyone for their hospitality and accommodation.
Within our oespohageal project and beyond, capacity building is absolutely critical to enabling better outcomes for patients in Kenya. This means that training across community engagement, endoscopy, pathology, and more widely into other clinical specialities and disease areas is at the core of the collaboration. We are delighted to be working with KUTRRH and partners on advancing these programmes.
Education and Development Lead, Manchester Cancer Research Centre
Of course, we’d be amiss if we didn’t also take the opportunity over the weekend prior to our formal visit to also explore Kenya for its wonderful sights. While exploring, our highlights were the wildlife we saw while visiting the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Giraffe Centre and Maasai Mara National Reserve, witnessing the great conservation efforts that take place in addition to seeing the great plethora of Kenyan wildlife.