Every now and then we get to hear from our community members with truly amazing stories and  Dr. Jonathan Tan fits the description. He’s a practicing pediatric anesthesiologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and conducts research that leverages informatics and geospatial information to improve access to care and outcomes for children. 

This year, he took his Flow on a serious adventure. 

Read on for the full story as he tells it.

Taking Flow on a medical mission trip to Kenya – by Dr Jonathan Tan

For the past two years, I have been able to take some time away from work and serve on medical mission trips the AIC Kijabe Hospital in Kenya.  While some of the time is spent caring for pediatric patients in the operating room as a pediatric anesthesiologist, I am also there to teach anesthesia to other physicians in training and nurse anesthetists. 

It is humbling to consider that many of those that are being trained will go out to other countries in Africa and may be the only trained pediatric anesthetists for hundreds of miles while caring for sick children with little medical resources. It is a far cry from the environment that we have in the United States at a major academic children’s hospital that seems to have all the best equipment and resources available.

Yet, the medical missionaries who serve full time at AIC Kijabe Hospital are simply amazing clinicians and health care providers who commit their lives to serving the people of this region. I am always thankful for how much I learn from my time there. 

The travel to Kenya and AIC Kijabe Hospital is a long one. From the east coast of the United States, its often two long flights to Nairobi. From Nairobi it is about a two-hour drive through the capital city, on busy congested highways, and into the countryside where the hospital is located.

On my first visit to Nairobi I realized how difficult it was to breath at times and there was certainly more coughing than normal. A quick look around the city and roadways made it pretty clear that air pollution from cars and buses played a large role in air quality and difficulty with breathing. Unfortunately, during my first year I had no way to quantify or measure this observation. 

Image by Nahashon Diaz from Pixabay 

Not having the ability to measure the air quality around me all changed on my most recent trip to Kenya. This year I was able to bring Flow and had the small and quiet air quality tracker attached to my backpack. In addition to the excitement of international travel and opportunity to see friends and teach pediatric anesthesia, I got off the plane in Nairobi and was excited to see what Flow would measure and show me. I wanted to see what the air quality was like and how that related to how I felt throughout the trip, in different areas of Kenya from the busy streets of Nairobi to the quiet countryside and famous Rift Valley where the hospital was located.

On the drive from Nairobi to the countryside it was fun and amazing to see the variation in air quality measured by Flow. I took a screenshot to share the data!  The intuitive and visual analytics of data from Flow on my iPhone showed me that I was driving through areas of “Very High” air pollution for extended periods of time. With the windows open on our van, these readings correlated directly with how the air was to breath and it reminded me of the constant exposure that people living in the area have on a chronic basis.  

We know that this constant exposure to extremely poor air quality can lead to severe asthma, reactive airway disease and long-term pulmonary complications in kids.  In addition to the clinical concerns, trouble with breathing is also associated in kids with poor educational outcomes and economic achievement.

While there are many aspects that need to be addressed in order to improve the health of children, it is important to consider that data is one of the most powerful ways to start! Having clear data, such as from Flow and the smartphone app, is a great start toward measuring the air quality risk and locations could be the most severe. The data and maps tell a compelling story of how poor the air quality can be and is a starting point for finding social, medical, economic and policy solutions. 

Jon

Good data leads to great things 

Learn more about how people are using data like Dr. Tan collected with his Flow in Kenya to take action against air pollution in their lives and in their communities.

Check out Aurelie’s story about how she used Flow data to make changes in her community, and Caitlin’s work on reducing air pollution at her workplace… on Broadway!

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