Jefferson Awards for Public ServiceBy Allen Martin

by Allen Martin and Jennifer Mistrot 

(KPIX 5) — It was an invitation that would change so many lives. Dr. Gail Wagner’s college-aged daughter had just completed a semester abroad in Kenya and she encouraged her mom to come see its beauty firsthand.

“The people were amazing,” recalled Dr. Wagner. ” They were very proactive, very interested.”

During the trip a local activist convinced Dr. Wagner, an oncologist, now retired from Kaiser to visit the area’s medical clinics. The conditions she found were shocking.

“They had no health care,“ said Wagner. “There were some buildings that were labeled clinic, but they were basically concrete shells.”

So Dr. Wagner returned home to the Bay Area and recruited other doctors to go back to Africa with her. The goal was to provide free medical care to thousands of rural Kenyans, many who were suffering from HIV and AIDS.

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“We did 10 medical camps the first year,” said Wagner. “And probably a thousand people were there for each one. Some of them were really sick and came in and died in front of us.”

Inspired to make a long lasting impact, Dr. Wagner, along with Kenyan Dan Ogola, created the Matibabu Foundation, which means “to treat” in Swahili. The foundation was renamed Tiba in 2010.

Tiba supports Matibabu, now its Kenyan based sister organization, and in the last 15 years Tiba has provided more than $4 million and organized 300 medical missions to the area, with Bay Area-based doctors like Srinivas Ramachandra.

“It was something amazing, unbelievable,” said Ramachandra. “To go there and see about 200 to 300 people waiting in line to be seen. And these are people that had no access to medical care prior to that and had to walk anywhere from 10 to 20 miles to get to this.”

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Now thanks to Dr. Wagner and Tiba, Matibabu operates its own Kenyan hospital with access to X-rays, ultrasounds, dental and optometry care. Kenyan based health care providers like Paschalia Obango say they are grateful to be able to provide medical care to fellow community members.

“I feel good,” said Obango. “I feel satisfied. I feel that when the client leaves, they are happy because you are able to sort out all their health issues.”

Dr. Wagner says she is inspired by the people she helps.

“This is a huge, huge deal for them,” declared Wagner. “And the community is amazing.”

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