Healing Skin in Kenya
Isabel’s Story: Inspiring a Partnership with UCSF Dermatology
Isabel arrived in the U.S. from Kenya in the spring of 2015 suffering from a skin condition that nobody could diagnose. She had bumps on her skin and was told that she must have HIV/AIDS despite multiple negative test results.
After starting a new and very stressful job in the U.S., Isabel’s bumps became extremely itchy and spread from her hands and thighs to her whole body. That year, she was unable to celebrate her birthday with her children because of severe pain and itching. Isabel could not sleep adequately for months on end. She was shunned by her community of Kenyan immigrants because they believed she had germs and was contagious.
“In one month only it was ruining my life. And nobody could understand. That was the worst part. They made me an outcast and they were saying that I had germs and nobody wanted to spend time with me. Even after going to the bathroom, others went and wiped the toilet down before using it. And I saw that… Everyone is looking at you like garbage... It reduces you to nothing. You don’t accept yourself. What you knew, you no longer knew.”
Isabel became so despondent that she packed one suitcase and was prepared to “go back to Kenya to die.” Before she booked her flight, she had one last doctor’s appointment with a dermatologist at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). To her surprise, she was quickly given a diagnosis of prurigo nodularis and a treatment plan. She was finally told something she always knew deep down: she doesn’t have HIV or any contagious disease. There was hope again.
Isabel went to the UCSF Phototherapy and Skin Treatment Center every day and was treated with light therapy and topical medications. She soon began to improve. She was able to sleep, a smile returned to her face, and she began to “love herself again.” And then she thought: “If I can suffer this way, what about my people back in Africa?”
In Kenya, the number of physicians knowledgeable about skin diseases is limited. Many skin conditions are misdiagnosed, which can cause extreme isolation and distress for the affected patients. Formal training in dermatology does not exist, and diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases falls to primary doctors and the few scattered foreign experts in skin disease.
With Isabel’s inspiring story, dermatologists at UCSF hope to create a partnership with Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, to foster the growth of knowledge in dermatology and treatment of skin diseases in Kenya.
Our mission goals in Kenya:
- Raise funds to deliver a state-of-the-art light therapy unit for Moi University
- Establish a training site at Moi for dermatologists and for the first dermatology residency program in Kenya
- Build capacity to deliver exemplary physical and emotional care to patients with skin conditions
Isabel’s back covered with itchy, painful prurigo nodules
Nodules on Isabel’s arm. Due to the intensity off the itch, Isabel was unable to sleep for months
UCSF Psoriasis and Skin Treatment Center Kenya Team. Pictured, from left to right: Sahil Sekhon, MD; Mio Nakamura, MD; Margie Jose, RN; Marissa Gualberto, A.A.S.; Tina Bhutani, MD; Sarah Hulse, RN; Wilson Liao, MD. Not pictured: Caleb Jeon, Ladan Afifi, Di Yan, Xueyan Lu.
A patient with eczema being treated by a nurse at the UCSF Phototherapy Unit
A lightbox which provides much-needed relief for many painful skin conditions
Isabel and Kenyan dermatologist Dr. Kiprono Samson at Moi Hospital in Kenya
Isabel and UCSF dermatologist Dr. Aileen Chang
Moi Medical Center in Eldoret, Kenya