Marybeth Maritim is a physician, university lecturer, and travel medicine practitioner in Nairobi, Kenya. We were thrilled to award her the 2018 IAMAT Violet Williams Travel Medicine Scholarship. In May, Marybeth travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa to attend a travel medicine course with the South African Society of Travel Medicine (SASTM). The intensive 5-day course covered all aspects of travel medicine. She also had the opportunity to see how a travel clinic operates at the Travel Doctor Clinic.
We caught up with Marybeth to find out more about her vision for travel medicine in Kenya.
Travel medicine beyond vaccines
For Marybeth, one of the most valuable parts of the SASTM course was learning new ways to educate her patients about reducing risks to their health. Learning how to assess travellers’ risk pre-, during, and post-travel is another important skill that she plans to share with colleagues at her own clinic.
In Marybeth’s words:
The course highlighted the importance of travel medicine beyond the provision of vaccines. The medical services I will provide for patients will be comprehensive, focusing on empowering the patient to change their behaviour in order to reduce their disease acquisition risk.
Having done a diploma in tropical and travel medicine in 2012, I thought I knew how a travel medicine clinic should be run before the SASTM course. I thought the focus was about giving clients vaccines based on what vaccine they come and demand. The clinical observation at the Travel Doctor Clinic broadened my knowledge, skills and attitude in the practice of travel medicine. I was able to learn first-hand the roles of a travel medicine practitioner and the services offered in a travel clinic.
Spotlight on Kenya
We have awarded travel medicine scholarships to three Kenyan doctors (including Marybeth). Starting in 2019, the IAMAT Violet Williams Scholarship will focus exclusively on Kenyan doctors and nurses. You may be wondering: “Why focus on Kenya?”
Kenya is a major tourist destination with a large expatriate population. Kenya’s national parks and wildlife draw visitors from around the world and Nairobi is a frequent destination for business travellers. Many Kenyans also travel within Kenya, to neighbouring countries like Uganda, or internationally for business or leisure. Despite the need for travel medicine services, this specialty is not well-known in Kenya.
The most important thing I took away from the course is the need for training more healthcare practitioners in my country in travel medicine. It is a specialty that is underrecognized. Many people consider travel medicine as just administering Yellow Fever vaccine. Risk assessments and prevention strategies for travellers with different needs are underestimated, particularly for local travellers travelling to rural areas and different parts of the country.
What’s next for Marybeth?
Marybeth is already putting her new knowledge into practice. She is setting up a travel clinic in Nairobi which will open shortly. In addition to the clinic, Marybeth plans to incorporate more travel medicine topics into the courses she teaches at the University of Nairobi. She is also designing a study about altitude illness in climbers of Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Educating health professionals about travel medicine is vitally important to helping travellers stay healthy. Marybeth explains that many people in her country consider travel medicine as just administering the Yellow Fever vaccine, which is typically a nurse’s role.
Changing this stereotype needs significant effort. I have started teaching my colleagues about travel medicine, including Yellow Fever vaccine and international health requirements, how to prevent illnesses like Malaria and diarrhea during travel (even within Kenya), how to investigate a returning traveller who is unwell, what vaccines are safe for HIV-infected patients, and what to do after a dog bite.
About IAMAT Scholarships
The IAMAT Scholarship Fund is the only program of its kind supporting doctors and nurses from emerging travel destinations to train in travel medicine abroad. Scholars attend a travel medicine course at a leading institution and observe clinical best practices at a travel clinic. Training focuses on patient-centered care and cross-cultural exchanges in medical knowledge, processes, and procedures.
After their training, scholars return to their home country to teach their colleagues and apply their new knowledge in their clinics. The goal of the program is to give scholars the knowledge and skills to become certified travel medicine practitioners. As of 2018, IAMAT has awarded over 30 scholarships to health practitioners from 9 countries. The IAMAT Scholarship Fund is made possible by generous donations from travellers.
The IAMAT Violet Williams Travel Medicine Scholarship is awarded to one doctor or nurse from Kenya. The scholar attends a 5-day travel medicine course offered by the South African Society of Travel Medicine and participates in 2 days of clinical observation at the Travel Doctor Clinic in Johannesburg.
Scholarship details and course dates can be found on the Scholarship Details page.
Photos courtesy of Marybeth Maritim: Marybeth on the White Nile river, Uganda; Marybeth at Machu Picchu, Peru.
Article by Daphne Hendsbee.