"In 2002, two follow up studies on the same topics (HIV, widow inheritance and male circumcision) saw IRDO graduate from my living room (and fridge) to my guest wing where Walter Agingu (see next paragraph) and I modified a kitchenette into a mini laboratory for sample storage and HIV testing, and the 10ftX10ft single room into a study-cum-data coordinating center."
Dr Kawango Agot, PhD, MPH, is the founder and Director of Impact Research and Development Organization (IRDO). Although registered on January 23rd 2003, it began operating in 1999 in Dr. Kawango´s living room. At that time she was carrying out two studies: one towards her PhD in Medical Geography (Widow Inheritance and HIV) and another towards her MPH in Epidemiology (Male Circumcision and HIV) obtained concurrently from the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. IRDO has its headquarter Kisumu City. She narrates the journey of IRDO:
As early as November 2007 IRDO had received funds from PEPFAR/CDC to provide Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) services in Nyanza Province. In February 2008, we sub-contracted Nyanza Reproductive Health Society (NHRS) and UIC to provide the services. NRHS and IUC role was to be primarily responsible for VMMC training and service delivery in partnership with MOH. The targeted districts included Suba, Siaya, Bondo, Rarieda, Kisumu East, Kisumu West, and Nyando.
In March 2008, training of Ministry of Health (MOH) personnel on VMMC started and by October 2008, service delivery started after the launch of MOH Guidance on VMMC. We carried out health facility assessments in all facilities in the districts to ascertain which facilities would be capable of providing VMMC services and to determine what equipment, instruments, supplies etc are required to provide the services.
In about ten years that we have been operational; we have conceptualized, designed conducted and successfully completed several HIV/AIDS prevention interventions and behavior change programs in Rift Valley, Nairobi, Nyanza and Western provinces in Kenya. IRDO Currently conducts a number of research studies and Implements a combination of evidence-based, cost effective Biomedical, structural and behavioral HIV prevention Interventions that target Most-At-Risk-Populations, the General population, youth in-and out-of-school and HIV indicted individuals in nine counties namely: Kisumu, Homabay, Siaya, Migori, Busia, West Pokot, UasinGishu, Nairobi, and Turkana.
Because study involved HIV testing, I kept blood samples in my refrigerator next to the food to await shipment to the University of Nairobi for processing (there were no rapid tests then!), until my adviser, the late Prof. Ndinya-Achola, a microbiologist, almost read to me the riots act about the dangers of making my food and blood samples share a fridge!
To reduce the cost of conducting the study, half of my staff were volunteers who lived in my house so they didn't have to pay rent or buy food hence survived on small pocket money only, but worked with incredible enthusiasm and teamwork!
In 2002, two follow up studies on the same topics (HIV, widow inheritance and male circumcision) saw IRDO graduate from my living room (and fridge) to my guest wing where Walter Agingu (see next paragraph) and I modified a kitchenette into a mini laboratory for sample storage and HIV testing, and the 10ftX10ft single room into a study-cum-data coordinating center. The study was better funded so all staff lived in their houses!
In 2004, IRDO made the most significant breakthrough when I put together a loosely formed working group with Mathews Onyango, Billy Agot, Dr. Collins Opeya, Walter Agingu, Bernard Ayieko and Erastus Aroko (bless their hearts!) to respond to a call for proposals released by CDC to design and implement an HIV prevention program targeting youth in informal settlements of Kisumu. Tuungane Youth Program was thus conceived. We would do our normal 8:30-6:00 job, then work on the proposal at night until 2, 3, 4, 5 am (Kisumu was safe then!), then rush home to grab a few hours of sleep, then rush back to work in the morning. That went on for 1&1/2 weeks - which is all we had to put the application together from scratch, look for countless attachments, make numerous copies and mail (yes, there was no internet submission then!) to get to Atlanta before the deadline.
We were shocked, ecstatic and grateful to God when one morning in September of 2004 I received email informing us that our proposal won. I laid prostrate on the office floor and thanked God before I shared the news with Mathews, then the other colleagues. IRDO was still being run from my guest wing so we embarked on looking for some presentable space to prepare for a possible CDC capacity assessment visit.
We were later to be informed that we were among at least 65 applicants - including renowned individuals, universities and international NGOs in the United States, so only God knows how a lowly, newly formed NGO like IRDO would compete and win among such accomplished names and institutions. That was our first application as a registered NGO, and we have never looked back.
Fast forward - today (2013) IRDO has in its employment about 550 staff on regular contract, about 100 staff on short-term contract, and about 300 volunteers (mostly mobilizers) working on our multiple projects across 30 districts on any single day. In 2013, IRDO is funded by PEPFAR/CDC, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, National Institutes of Health/University of Washington, National Institutes of Health/FHI360, National Institutes of Health/New York University, USAID/FHI-360, Global Fund/AMREF, Global Fund/Red Cross, and World Bank/National AIDS Control Council.
At IRDO we are proud of our legacy as a truly local organization and one that delivers on its objectives in a transparent and accountable manner. Integrity is our flag.
To our donors, our staff and volunteers, and the communities we serve - we thank you for the opportunity to work together towards improving lives of individuals and communities in Kenya. IRDO will forever be grateful.