FILE - A general view of Lamu's resort town (June 19, 2019) where life has changed little over the centuries.
FILE - A general view of Lamu's resort town, June 19, 2019.

LAMU COUNTY, KENYA - In Kenya's remote island communities near the border with Somalia, the threat from al-Shabab militants has scared away most medical personnel. But one group of volunteers  — the Safari Doctors — is braving the danger to provide much-needed health care to the area's most vulnerable in Lamu County.

The care arrives in a classic wooden ship flying the Safari Doctors logo on its sail.

The people here have always had less access to medicine than in urban areas, but when al-Shabab terrorists threatened the region starting in 2011, the few clinics there were abandoned.  

Lamu-born Umra Omar, the founder of Safari Doctors, left her career in the U.S. in 2015 to help the women and children left behind.

"For me because it was home and because I was a new mother myself,” Omar said. “Like seeing other mothers and seeing the need that was there, it just became a natural thing for Safari Doctors to take on from there."

The Safari Doctors visit 12 islands each month, bringing health care to a population of 20,000 people.

Lamu Kenya

Mpunga Sufuria came with her baby for a check-up.

Sufuria said that normally when her child is sick, she would have to go to another island. But getting the medicines from where she is, is better.

While al-Shabab militants are a threat, locals say the remoteness of the islands also provides some protection. Aisha Mariadi just received medicines against diarrhea for her sick baby.

She says that the danger comes when on the roads. There she is scared, but not in the village.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for attacks in Lamu County in 2014 that left nearly 100 people dead and dealt a blow to Kenya's coastal tourism.

Founded just a year later, the Safari Doctors say they are aware of the risk, but have yet to face any intimidation, said volunteer Amina Mohamed.

"I started in 2017 and ever since I came for all the clinics there has never been any threat whatsoever."

A bigger threat to locals than terrorism is the lack of sanitation and clean water, said Harrison Kalu, who is a nurse.

"So this water is not treated, one thing,” Kalu said. “So during the rainy season, all the dirt is accumulated and put in the diambias [buckets] and people collect the same water for drinking."

The Safari Doctors are funded through grants and donations, but the Lamu County government also gives them vaccines and reproductive health care products.

The group hopes to merge with the local government by 2022 to formalize its role as the mother ship for bringing health care services to Kenya's remote islands.