Q&A with Ralph F. Stroup, M.D.
Retirement and Africa trigger a dramatic change in the life of an alumnus.
Ralph F. Stroup, M.D., is a Class of 1965 graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He spent two years in Rochester as a surgical intern and then surgical resident before joining the U.S. Air Force for two years. Stroup completed his urology training at Yale School of Medicine in 1973. He then joined a five-man urology practice in New Haven, Conn. He retired from the practice in 2006, but he remains an assistant clinic professor at Yale, where he runs the residents urology training clinic.
- How did your venture to Africa begin?
- Bruce Williams, my roommate in college at Rutgers, and I were good friends but we had not been in contact in 40 years. Â When I retired, I made a resolution to find him. In 2008, I found him in Chicago. He’s a world-class educator. I went to see him. He invited me to go with him to Kenya to help with a training workshop for community mobilization against HIV/AIDS with Kenyan health care workers. I had never been to Africa. I agreed to go.
- What happened during your first visit to Kenya?
- While I was there for the workshops, I was invited by a group of Maasai leaders to remote villages in the Laikipia District in the north within sight of Mount Kenya. The farther north you go, the more difficult it is to travel. The roads are very poor. It was a rough ride.
I was taken to Lokusero, a village with just a shell of a clinic. The Kenyan government says a village has to have funds to build the clinic. If it is built and the government certifies it, the government provides personnel to man it. It was an empty shell because the village had run out of money. This was at the beginning of a terrible drought, which has persisted the last three years, and they were totally impoverished. The cost of completing the clinic was about $8,000. A day or two later, I was taken to another remote village, Chumvi, where there was a clinic supported by a small private hospital and a British nonprofit organization. It was in danger of closing because it was running in the red. No one could fill in gap that turned out to be $250. I returned to the main town, where I met with Maasai leaders and told them I would find a way to support both clinics.
- Did you raise the money?
- I went home and met with Rotary Clubs, church groups, medical groups and people from Yale. I formed a small donor base that now is about 100 people. I raised the needed money by mid- 2009. Wonderful things happened. By August 2009, the Lokusero clinic was finished with nursing quarters. The government certified the facility and it was ready to open. There was a problem: there were no examining tables, desks or chairs. They needed money for capital equipment. I was able to raise the money and, by the end of 2009, the clinic was running with two nurses and a health care worker. In partnership with the community and the government, solar panels were installed for lighting and a room for outpatient maternity facility was added. Chumvi’s clinic was able to stay open with the money raised and a two-bed maternity unit has been added.
- What other needs have you found?
- There is no reliable water in Lokusero. There is a traditional well about 100 feet from the clinic and a water tank on a hill. The pump is powered by diesel fuel but the village is so poor they can’t afford money for fuel. We have raised $22,000 for a solar-powered pump and up to dozen solar panels that should provide reliable power for the pump and for a refrigerator for vaccines and medications.
The Maasai have formed an effective leadership structure. There are committees to advise on health care, schools, water and other issues. I work with the Ilngwesi Afya Group. Afya is health care in Swahili. About 15 people were given seed money in 2005 to form a nonprofit in Kenya made up of Kenyans. They first did HIV awareness in the communities. They received funding from the Institute of Cultural Affairs, Canada and from the U.S. Agency for International Development. They created a series of programs proven to be exceedingly effective in reducing HIV and AIDS. All the work I do is in direct conjunction with this group. All the needs assessments and priorities come from them. They have received international recognition for effectiveness and honesty. They are dynamic people and wonderful to work with.
I also work with the non-profit group, International Consultants and Associates, which has about 35 years of experience in African initiatives. This group is our vehicle for transferring money. We are IC&A’s largest project.
- What are you working on now?
- The main thing is to seek funds for an educational grant for a neo-natal and maternity program to reduce mortality. I’m also interested in a lens-less cell phone microscope that is being developed by an engineering group at UCLA. A device is attached to a cell phone to allow diagnosing of malaria or conducting an HIV test in the field, anywhere there is cell phone service. The remoteness of our clinics makes them an ideal test site. I’m exploring insecticide impregnated mosquito nets. Malaria still is a very major problem in this part of Kenya. As many as 65 percent of children are treated for malaria. The nets are about $10 a piece but that is more that the people can afford. I’m also looking at a water filter with no moving parts and no chemicals. It’s a sand-and-gravel filtration system that is effective in making water potable. It eliminates almost 99 percent of disease causing elements. It costs $50 a unit and provides about 60 liters of clean water a day. It would mean a better standard of living.
- How has this affected you?
- My trips to Kenya have been eye-opening. I always said that in retirement I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I found myself in a world of poverty and need that has had a profound effect on me. It really has changed my life. It has changed my life’s priorities, my personal charitable donations, and my time priorities. A lot of what I do is directly related to these people and projects in Kenya. By concentrating on building primary health care infrastructure and clean water facilities, I can affect the lives of thousands. I could go there and do hands-on medicine for a week or two but the number of people helped would be much smaller. I am pleased with that decision.
The Maasai and the people in the villages are very positive and full of great gratitude. I’ve been to Kenya three times and I plan to go again this summer. As I’ve gone back and my credibility and trust levels have developed, I think I am in a position to bring about changes that might not happen otherwise.
To contact Ralph Stroup, e-mail him at email@example.com
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