On his first trip to Eldoret, Kenya in 1994, Lemons realized that he must do something for mothers and babies. At that time, he was in Eldoret for three months with his wife Pam, (a nurse practitioner) and two of their three children. They were both working with the Indiana University/Moi University partnership at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in the newborn unit – a small room with ten wire baskets to hold the newborns. There was no working sink or any way to care for babies who needed intensive care. The newborn unit was heated by a small charcoal fire.
It was this lack of services and resources as well as the HIV/AIDS epidemic that spurred Lemons into action. "Maternal and infant mortality rates in Kenya remain among the highest in the world, with much of the mortality due to complications of pregnancy and HIV. Up to 35% of Kenyan women in some communities are infected with HIV/AIDS," states Lemons. "If not treated during pregnancy, one-third of the babies will become infected by the time of delivery and an additional 15% will be infected through breast milk. In other words, up to 25% of newborns in Kenya are infected with HIV." The transmission of HIV to newborns can be prevented almost entirely if appropriate treatment is provided near the time of delivery and with good care after for the mother and baby after birth.
The importance of building a new hospital for women and infants in Eldoret, Kenya is best understood in the context of the longstanding relationship which has existing between Indiana University School of Medicine (IU) and Moi University Faculty of Health Sciences (MU) in Eldoret, Kenya. IU and MU formed a partnership fifteen years ago surrounding the exchange of faculty, residents, and students. It has developed into perhaps the strongest medical school partnership in the world between a developed and developing country.
For the last 17 years, at least one IU faculty member and family have lived in Eldoret, Kenya for a year at a time. Extensive multidisciplinary collaboration and expertise have developed within pediatrics, obstetrics, internal medicine and most other medical and surgical specialties. In 1990, there were five Kenyan faculty. Currently, there are over 220. More than 50 Kenyan Faculty have received additional postdoctoral training at IU and have returned to Kenya as fulltime faculty there. MU and the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital serve as the primary referral center for northwestern Kenya, an area with a population of approximately 13 million.
Construction began on the three-story 75,000 square foot hospital in August, 2006 and the doors opened to receive mothers and babies on April 29, 2009.