As cases of a deadly disease, visceral leishmaniasis, continue to spread in small rural communities in areas of East Africa, Dr. Kebron Haile, a Technical Advisor for the VL initiative at the END Fund, has been able to use her years of first hand experience treating the disease to help the region coordinate an effective response.
That is the great challenge that Dr. Kebron Haile faces here at the END Fund. Dr. Kebron is the END Fund resident expert on all things VL.
VL, spread by the bite of a sandfly, causes fever, weight loss, spleen and liver enlargement. If untreated, this infection is nearly always fatal if untreated after clinical symptoms appear. 70% of the VL global burden is found in just seven countries, four in Eastern Africa: Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.
After more than seven years as a medical practitioner dealing with VL, Dr. Kebron is now a technical advisor, responsible for helping to lead the END Fund’s initiative to end visceral leishmaniasis along with Duncan Ochol, Senior Director of the VL initiative.
After completing medical school in Addis, Ethiopia, Kebron Haile began working as a general practitioner in a rural health facility in Northern Ethiopia where she first started to see patients coming in with this deadly disease.
“The disease is 95% fatal and still is neglected. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in such a narrow space where there is so much room for progress. I’ve been blessed to have been giving service to those who are very much in need of it,” said Dr. Kebron.
Yet, despite the negative outlook, according to Dr. Kebron, treating VL patients is rewarding.
Dr. Kebron observing VL patients at Jinka Hospital.
“If you get it right, you will see the patient physically improving right before your eyes. [Patients] have to stay for 17 days…So you see how much the patient improves. They will stop having fever and their enlarged organs decrease. It’s actually a very rewarding feeling,” said Dr. Kebron as she reminisces about her experience with VL.
Her passion for her work is clear, which she attributes to from treating VL patients up close from when she was a practicing clinician working in rural areas of Ethiopia.
“The first [VL] case that I really remember was an 18 year old boy who came in very ill. We tried to stabilize him as much as possible, but the center that he was supposed to be referred at was in a health center and he was very critical, but at the end of the day, we had to refer him to the health center where there were basically no physicians to take care of the other conditions other than Kala azar. So we tried to stabilize him as much as possible. We sent him off. Three days later he arrested and we were told that he passed away.”
While experiences like these are tough to bear, they are also why Dr. Kebron brings such invaluable experience as an expert on VL and how she has greatly influenced the direction of the END Fund’s VL programming.
“We monitor VL in each country, regarding how many people have been treated, the capacity building process, and the availability of medication in accordance with WHO guidance,” said Dr. Kebron, who considers that she is still growing into her role.
“I was just managing the capacity building in Ethiopia first. Then the budgeting, implementing, making sure everything is done in Ethiopia now. I’m getting more and more involved in the rest of the East African countries. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll actually get to see all of the projects in the East African countries.”
Dr. Kebron’s dedication to her craft is clear from the first moment she speaks. Her advice for people searching for opportunities to get involved is to encourage people to learn and persist together.
“In the fight against neglected tropical diseases, unity and persistence are our greatest allies. Together, we can overcome the challenges, alleviate suffering, and create a healthier, brighter future for all.”
Check out Dr. Kebron’s recent interview on the status of VL in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia.