Why is a Dutch Medical Researcher Moving to Nairobi?
By Steven van de Vijver, Senior Research Officer
Why is a Dutch medical researcher moving to Nairobi? That’s the question I had to answer frequently to my Dutch friends when I told them that I would move with my family to Nairobi. And now I am here it is this question all my Kenyan friends are asking again. They thought the brain drain was moving in the other direction.
My wish to move to Nairobi started three years ago. I had just completed my job in the Democratic Republic of Congo where I worked as a medical doctor for MSF, Doctors without Borders. It was there that I realized that the previous tropical medicine training I had received was outdated. I was prepared to do surgery, obstetrics, manage cholera outbreaks, treat HIV and TB patients, but being on the ground I found out one important thing was clearly missing: management of chronic diseases. When you talk about tropical medicine many people still think about a small child with malaria in a little village in the bush, but in fact this has shifted to a young adult with high blood pressure in the slums of the big urban jungle.
The year 2007 marked the first time in the history of mankind that more people in the world started living in urban than in rural settings. This has a major impact on our health. Infectious diseases are going down and chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes are on the rise. This enormous increase in urbanization and chronic diseases is specifically happening in sub-Saharan Africa. So I realized that in order to become a modern tropical doctor I should know everything about these two topics. I searched on the internet and spoke with several experts and they told me clearly where I had to be: the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) in Nairobi.
This is the place where most recent knowledge and research on urbanization and chronic diseases is gathered. If UN-Habitat talks about the situation of slums in this world, you can be sure they will consult the data from APHRC. More and more institutions like APHRC are taking the lead role in defining the research agenda for the continent from institutions in the West. Here at APHRC is the perfect combination of highly competent researchers educated at the top universities in the world working together in a competitive and collaborative environment to tackle the key public health challenge of this century, chronic diseases among the urban poor, next door. This Dutch medical researcher wants to be part of the action and I am sure many brains from all over the globe will follow.
Watch the interview on youtube at: