Care for a More Humane World

Then a Seattle University nursing student, Rebecca Okelo, ’07 BSN, ’15 LEMBA, was forever changed by a junior year service trip to Ghana where she witnessed advanced-stage AIDS patients being denied routine medical care.

Written by Tina Potterf
Photography by Yosef Kalinko
May 17, 2017

Then a Seattle University nursing student, Rebecca Okelo, ’07 BSN, ’15 LEMBA, was forever changed by a junior year service trip to Ghana where she witnessed advanced-stage AIDS patients being denied routine medical care. “I was devastated by what I had seen,” Okelo recalls. “I came back and had no idea what I could do about it.”

Back home she put together a business plan around setting up a nonprofit to bring desperately needed health care to a corner of the world where many children and adults were living with HIV/AIDS. Med25 International was born and, a decade later, what began as one small clinic in Ghana grew into a multifunctional health center, nursery, vocational school and orphanage that has helped thousands of patients and families. And what started in Ghana expanded into Kenya where Okelo and Med25 established an outpatient clinic that offers a range of services including preventative care, immunizations, prenatal care, treatment of malaria, waterborne illnesses and pneumonia, and care for HIV/AIDS patients.

Today, the clinic treats more than 1,800 patients per month, with 70 percent of care free and other services costing only a nominal fee. All of which is financed without ongoing foreign aid. According to Okelo, this is possible through community established income-generating businesses. In 2011, Med25 completed market surveys and found that the greatest need in the region for a social business was a mortuary. While others were skeptical at first, listening to the community paid off. Just 20 months after the mortuary opened, the entire project in Mbita was 100 percent locally sustained and foreign aid was no longer needed.

“This community-driven project has significantly improved access to health care in this area,” Okelo says. “Now the community has access to quality and affordable health care and the means to sustain the project locally for years to come.”

While Med25 was creating social enterprises in communities of need, Okelo wanted to further her business education to support her work. She returned to Seattle U to complete the Leadership Executive MBA Program, graduating in 2015.

“I returned to Seattle U for my MBA because I knew I wanted SU’s values as the foundation for my business education,” she says. “So much of Med25’s work is based off of Seattle U’s mission that I valued the most: equality, human rights and social justice and how you can use business for good in the world.”

Following the success of the Kenya project, MED25 went through a strategic planning process to determine the best way to have a greater impact in more communities. A big step to accomplish this was to become part of VillageReach, another Seattle-based nonprofit organization and a global health innovator that develops, tests, implements and scales new solutions to critical health system challenges in low-resource environments.

“VillageReach and Med25 are both working to provide quality health care to the most underserved communities in Africa,” Okelo says. “By becoming a program within VillageReach’s portfolio, we will benefit from their expertise in bringing an innovative idea to scale and having a greater impact in more communities”.

While this transition is new, projects are already being evaluated in countries where VillageReach is currently working, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi.

Okelo credits the role her Seattle U education had in helping shape what has become her life’s work.

“Seattle U has absolutely been the catalyst in what Med25 has become … and what it is today.”

 To learn more about Med25, contact Rebecca Okelo at rebecca.okelo@villagereach.org.

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