High-quality Maternal and Newborn Health Care Starts with Health Workers

When my team comes to work each day at the IntraHealth International office in Nairobi, we focus on strengthening Kenya’s health workforce. This may include human resource management, improving and linking pre-service and in-service training for health workers, reducing bureaucratic obstacles to efficient and equitable hiring processes, or helping the Ministry of Health use HR data to make decisions and advocate for the budget it needs to hire and train more health workers.

On any given day, I may work with Government of Kenya officials, donors, public health specialists, technologists, social entrepreneurs, or health workers. Except for family gatherings and visits to health clinics, I don’t get to interact with many mothers or babies.

But when I read my organization’s new 2013 annual report, I was reminded of three things.

First, our work in Kenya fits into a larger picture of global change and impact. I am proud of Kenya’s contribution to the 178,000 health workers worldwide that IntraHealth reached last year.

Second, our work isn’t ultimately about innovating to improve education and training or improving workforce planning. It’s about bringing high-quality health care to the 356 million people—including millions of mothers and babies—who visited those health workers IntraHealth reached last year.

Finally, I’m reminded that behind these big numbers are individuals.

Individuals are behind the training program we developed at Tenwek Hospital in 2013, as featured in the report. Our FunzoKenya project partnered with the high-achieving hospital to serve as a training center for health workers throughout the district, many of whom work in underserved rural communities. This model provides hands-on training and experience with clients that can be hard to acquire or to simulate.

As I look through photographs of those health workers, students, mothers, and newborns, I am reminded that every mother and newborn deserves a high level of care. We know that universalizing access to basic, essential newborn care could reduce newborn deaths by 71%. We also know that scaling up the education, training, and production of midwives—and bringing facility-based care closer to home for mothers—has been key to reducing maternal and newborn deaths in several countries. It can for Kenya too!

For every 100,000 live births in Kenya, there are 400 maternal deaths and 270 neonatal deaths. That’s down from 490 and 330 in 1990. But it shows that an unacceptable number of women and newborns are still dying every year. We are making progress, but many mothers in Kenya—particularly in rural areas—continue to deliver at home, and Kenya is far from reaching the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters.

We’re partnering with the Government of Kenya, local partners and experts, entrepreneurs, faith-based organizations, and training institutions to prioritize the health workforce and health systems needed to achieve Kenya’s 2030 Vision and its focus and commitment toward improved maternal and newborn health.

Together, we’ll make sure all of Kenya’s mothers and newborns get the quality of care they deserve, when and where they need it.

Students gather around David Cheruiyot (second from right), a clinical instructor at Tenwek School of Nursing, as he trains nurses from other hospitals around the country on techniques for dealing with maternal and newborn complications. Photo: Trevor Snapp for IntraHealth International

Students gather around David Cheruiyot (second from right), a clinical instructor at Tenwek School of Nursing, as he trains nurses from other hospitals around the country on techniques for dealing with maternal and newborn complications. Photo: Trevor Snapp for IntraHealth International

Learn more in IntraHealth’s 2013 Annual Report.
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MESHA members discuss #African Scientific Revival Day on Facebook

The following is a collection of reactions from a discussion posted on facebook by George Achia,  discussing the  Africa Scientific Revival Daysti photo.

George Achia: June 30th is the African Scientific Revival Day. This day was declared by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU), to celebrate the role of science and technology in Africa’s development. During these celebrations, Kenya’s stakeholders will on Monday take stock of the country’s achievements in science and technology while also assessing the status and needs for the future….

Has Kenya done well in its ST&I sector, and has the country demonstrated her ability in utilization of ST&I as the engine for social and economic development? What are some of the practical examples you can point? What are the challenges and way forward? Over to you…

Responses and discussions

Geoffrey Kamadi Venue?

George Achia KARI HQ,

Geoffrey Kamadi: Saa ngapi bwana? Why are you economical with the info

Maina Waruru :Hope to make it,

Maurice Bolo: Thanks George…actually the venue is KARI – NARL (next to ABC place

George Achia: Maurice Bolo kindly answer Geoffrey Kamadi. on time…I know he wants to attend and do some amazing work.

George Achia: I need your opinions on those issues I have raised. …let them come,

Maurice Bolo: Thanks George Achia…Geoffrey Kamadi, the event will start from 8:30 to 5 p.m. We have lined up interesting activities including presentations from practitioners, panel discussions and science competitions for high school students in “communicating science through art” and we shall be awarding the best students in poetry, essay and art….

George Achia:  Otieno Owino, I know that now whets your appetite..”communicatingscience through art”…U got to be there.

Otieno Owino-Mikwa: That’s quite something George it’s time we thought outside the box. Science ought to be much fun just like art.

Geoffrey Kamadi: Sawasawa! Thanks George Achia! Do you mind in boxing the schedule of events on that material day Maurice Bolo? Thanks so much.

Maurice Bolo: Geoffrey, Yes I will. Am out of office at the moment but will share with you the programme later in the day…Please remind me around 3 p.m.

Geoffrey Kamadi: Cool!

Duncan Mboyah: I am watching from a distance….

George Achia: Duncan Mboyah join the conversation. I asked some questions here whichI needed views on, but no one has given me one…Has Kenya done well in its ST&I sector, and has the country demonstrated her ability in utilization of ST&I as the engine for social and economic development? What are some of the practical examples you can point? What are the challenges and way forward? What’s your thought on this?

Duncan Mboyah: I am not very sure whether Kenya has done well or not. What I am sure about is that Kenya has put in place good policy paper on the way forward. The ability is there when one looks at the personnel but it is also zero on funding as govt and experts interests are poles apart. A lot more need to be done and promises – policy papers must be accompanied with funding instead of doing the talking year in year out.

Geoffrey Kamadi: Ok George Achia…the country is not doing well when it comes to ST&I research initiative. Currently, the government’s allocation to research is a dismal 0.5 percent of GDP, which is way below the recommended 2 percent allocation, in accordance with the Science, Technology and Innovation Act of 2013! June 27 at 12:34pm · Like

George Achia: But what are some of the success stories in application and utilization of STI in the country that you can point out Duncan Mboyah and Geoffrey Kamadi? I guess they are a quite a number.

Shaukat Abdulrazak :Kenya needs to implement the 2% of GDP to support STI sector has indicated in STI act. We are on the path but must leapfrog to catch up. Need to set up more centers of excellence in innovation.

Kimani Chege: Kenya is a country in parallels. For the government, STI is still abstract, something slightly better than jua kali. That’s why funding remains slow. The other parallel is private institutions and to some extent Universities. There is a lot going on especially on the engineering and life sciences. It was only yesterday that JKUAT VC acknowledged the role played by private sector in funding research. We have Kevin Desai who have been there for long and now Manu Chandaria. We also have university-industry linkages in IT and engineering (Strathmore). Things ought to be moving. But again what is it that we as science communicators are doing. Are we telling the policy makers what the community needs. Are our reporting helping the researchers and end users? Are our reporting inconsequential that those in decision making cannot take it serious. My last question is on funding. Kenya is one of the countries in Africa that receives huge funding from international organizations. What significant has this money done before we ask for more.

Kiprotich Koros: Methinks the sector that has had some success in rolling out real Kenyan products to the masses has been the jua kali sector despite no or little funding from the government and in most cases little formal education on that industry. Of the few real Kenyan products in our households, quite a number (in fact most) of them will be from the informal sector. The projects from the academia that have been funded heavily by the government in the most part seem to have only managed to replicate the products that are already produced by the informal sector (excluding areas like agricultural and medical research – biological sciences mainly). If we are to learn some lessons from the jua kali sector then it would be that; we make progress when we do things practically. Of course there is a lot of space for advanced research for the academia and I guess government funding should go to this areas if there is a chance they will solve practical problems. At the moment we have enough STI from all over the world. We just need more of ‘doing.’ So as Kimani Chege has asked: “What significant has this money done before we ask for more?

Maurice Bolo:  The role of the private sector seems clear, our recent work shows that the private sector accounts for up to 78% of all patents registered in Kenya sin e 1990; the universities and public research institutes have accounted for a mere 5% in the same period and interestingly individuals have registered 9% of all the patents since 1990. On Monday June 30th during the scientific revival day, I will be making a case for greater citizen engagement in STI policy….be side to join us on twitter @Scinnovent go follow the discussions…..

Maurice Bolo: George Achia et al, We marked the African Scientific Revival Day, (June30th) with the focus on the achievements/impacts of biotechnology on food and nutrition security in Kenya. Highlights included a very lively panel discussion on the question of whether biotechnology has worked for Kenya, what has it done and where is the evidence?

Senior scientists, youth, practitioners and farmers deliberated on this topic and had veryinteresting revelations…

Mesha Kenya: Maurice, can you kindly send me the report of this day? Could you alsodiscuss with the MESHA coordinator on how your organisation can participate actively in the Africa Conference of Science Journalists organised by MESHA and due in Sep 15 to 19 in Mombasa?

Maurice Bolo: “Thanks very much Mesha Kenya, We are working on the comprehensive report which will take a week or so, but we are happy to share with you the highlights (which will take shorter to put together). I am also quite happy to engage with the Mesha Coordinator on your upcoming conference in Mombasa…please send/inbox me a contact”

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Amiran launches low cost irrigation kit to spur up new age farming

Amiran launches low cost irrigation kit to spur up new age farming.

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Journalist share thier thoughts on Facebook #Why research is Invisible in Africa

How come that research in Africa in invisible?

July 3, 2013 : The following is a collection of reactions from a discussion posted on facebook by George Achia early last month, discussing the question on Why Research is Invisible in Africa.

George Achia: We know nothing about research happening outside the US and UK. When you look at science coverage you get a sense that the world consists of [only] the UK and the US.” That was the opening salvo by the moderator, Vibeke Hjortlund, at a session discussing science reporting in the so called ‘neglected regions’ during the world conference of science journalists in Helsinki. How much do you agree or disagree with this statement.”

Cosmas Butunyi: “I totally disagree – especially in the case of Africa. There is huge coverage from this side. The moderator was obviously speaking from a point of ignorance.

Mercy: “interesting…and I think I am hopeful now that there is a change and Africa is getting covered positively. Mhh…there was time when science writing in Africa was all about disease and how Africa is suffering when it comes to issues of development. And through my years as a science journalist, there has been a sort of revolution

George Achia, and now we are having A LOT of positive stories coming from Africa, of development, of innovations, of how Africa is rising from the ‘ruins’ and doing a lot when it comes to science, research and development. A lot has to be done, but there is hope :)”

Patrick Luganda: “There is just very minimal research going on in Africa for it to steal the show. Something is being done but a lot more needs to be done. For science reporting most of the agenda setting is by the west. Who do we write for in Africa? Do we write these science stories for a senior citizen in Embu or Kericho or the youth in Gulu or Kampala…NO it is for the educated in our midst and then only a paltry following. Otherwise it is much in line with what is desired by the western universities, research agendas etc. Even stories that concern our scientists in Africa have a bias towards the sponsors of the research from the west. A good example is in GMO coverage. Depending on who is paying the ‘piper’ you can get the feel of the tune and lyrics. The same goes for climate change, technology promotion and also health stories. We still have a lot to get done. One of the approaches is to get more people to understand and therefore appreciate what science and science reporting is all about. That is a big demand among so many competing interests!!”

Jonathan Odhong: “In certain fields of science, yes but generally that’s a false statement by the moderator. Let me try and paraphrase what s/he meant to say: “Both in the UK and US, we are generally ignorant about the research that goes on in the rest of the world. Not only are we ignorant about the science, but also the general news and developments in other regions of the world. “This can be the only true statement s/he could have wanted to make because it only takes a click of the button to find out what research or science is going on in the African continent. We may have not as a continent graduated into the more sophisticated science branches like nanotechnology and others of that kind, but there are numerous other scientific researches going on. Yes most of the funding for on going research from Africa is from the West, but African researchers have lately had more voice in setting the research agenda.”

Redemtor Atieno: “He definitely does not read widely”

Patrick: “Jonathan you raise an interesting point. This is the assumption that people who live in the western world because they have the facilities at hand to access scientific research they actually do so. That is wrong. Most of the ordinary people who access the internet do so for entertainment, general news, shopping, gossip (disguised as chatting) and other seemingly simple reasons (but which are important to them). It is therefore true that they are ignorant about the science news and information first around them but more so from beyond their boundaries. By the way apart from science information most westerners do not even have a wink about where such countries as Uganda or most of the 53 countries in Africa are located or even what they are called. Then how would they bother to learn about science from here. Except that is if you were from a London School of Tropical Medicine etc and you would just most likely know about a small spot on the continent.”

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Need for scientists, regulators and journalists to work together for a biosafe nation

Which Way GMOs

By Aghan Daniel,

Biosafety is important but so is ensuring that GM crops benefit the rural poor and that decisions are based on sound science.

Journalists can report on progress being made on various issues on biosafety right from processes, new developments, challenges, available biosafety systems, regulations and policies. How does Kenya compare with other countries, neighbours, internationally etc?

And most importantly the importance of such issues. For regulators, what is your role, challenges, how effective are you in your work, what are some of the processes of getting products? We talk about national performance trials, confined trials etc, what do these mean? What does it take to do all these and why do them in the first place?

The GMOs ban: wonder of wonders that the ban came as a surprise even to the chief regulators and scientific advisors of the government of the day. NBA was caught with her pants down – there was no explanation whatsoever coming from scientists, from NBA – NBA was actually switched off.

The journalists expected at that time that these bodies work together but that was not depicted – journalists ran around and thank God that some bold scientists from the University of Nairobi came to the rescue of journalist by being available for interview as TV is all about sound bytes.

Nearly 6 months later, the then PS for Agriculture in Kenya, Dr Romano Kiome came out in the open to dismiss the ban as being unscientific. To date there is confusion, do we have a ban or not? And by the way, it is important for regulators to explain the process of effecting a ban – is it through a media conference, release, a gazette notice, or an advertisement?

Three years before the ban, Kenya had set up the NBA tasked with supervising the transfer, handling and use of GMOs. It aims at establishing a transparent, science based and predictable process for reviewing use of GMOs. This means that Kenya had already established a scientific agency to assess safety concerns. Yet with all this machinery in place, the ban was hardly explained to the public, but most importantly, the journalists want to know what impact the ban could have on research,
development, trade etc.

I want to continue challenging scientists to join the debate; In Sept 2011, Kenya’s then Agriculture Secretary, Dr Wilson Songa urged scientists to join the debate on GM foods and not leave it to politicians. You of course know the messy and dramatic ways politicians can explain GM related issues, take the case of the immediate MP for Naivasha who served as the chair of the Parliamentary

Committee on Agriculture, Mr Mutotho. He went on to vilify GM foods and biotechnology in general.

Given, researchers have knowledge which they can use to educate the public and save them from the dangerous propaganda going round about GMOs.

Scientists must effectively, competently, and soberly link science with the society. We must provide information that can tantalize the public to appreciate the role of biosafety systems rather than provide alarming information. I was recently in Bujumbura, Burundi where a professor claimed that he was part of the team of scientists who worked with Seralini to conduct research on GMOs and rats. The truth is, he does not even know Seralini is French!

Scientific institutions must come out to demonstrate to the public (to build their confidence in their ability and work) that they indeed have the capacity to deal with biosafety issues.

Terminology: A differentiation should be made by scientists between tolerance and resistance etc.

Does the public know what it takes for a product to reach the market?

Intellectual property and trade: Then there are the issues of IP – are corporations taking ownership of genetic material, undermining the staple practice of farmers using and sharing their own seed from one year to the next?

Danger risk of biodiversity loss: there is need to explain to journalists the impact of GM on insects and birds.

Scientists need to ensure that national agricultural policies take into account the interests of the poor farmers and give rural communities sufficient leverage over decision making to ensure that GM crops meet locally defined needs.

Need to explain how regulations are scientifically sound – some scientists exaggerate the impact of

GM crops eg that they poison the environment, that they are supersedes etc.

Journalists must develop a passion to report on biosafety correctly.

Scientists must embrace that we are past the dawn of social media, that you can use facebook, blogs, participate in citizen journalism so that they make their work known. Think about Norman Borlaug and his time, he had very few media tools and he used them effectively. Are scientists taking advantage of all the new media?

Scientists need to be empowered by the institutions to speak/interact with the media. Perhaps an annual communication/scientific clinic every January/February?

Scientists can creatively work with the media by dedicating a day or two to live a journalist’s life, visit the media house, attend editorial meeting, go out in the field with a reporter, collect the information, get back to the studio/desk and bang/edit the story …..

Finally, we need to think over and over again about our audience. Think about the question we usually ask at the corporate communication level – who is your target? Think about the journalist’s target – donors, school children, donors, professors etc.

We are told you need to write for the common man, are we too concerned with the ordinary man to a point of diluting information?

*This article was first presented at The Second National Biosafety Conference on Thursday, August 8, 2013

**The writer is the Communication and Advocacy Officer at African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) and also the out-going Secretary of MESHA

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The really (not) scary truth about nuclear research

By Sandra Chao

Genetic research in agriculture is not as scary as it sounds.

Nuclear research in agriculture is not as scary as it sounds.

“I’m sorry Madam, but the only open field trips are for irrigation and biotechnology,” the clerk at the registration said to me.

“Bio-what?” I asked.

“Yes, Madam, to the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute. You can write your name here,” he finished.

I was too busy thinking to hear the last part of his statement. The first thing that came to my mind was genetically modified food, and I began quickly cataloging what I had eaten since I landed at the Kotoka International Airport for the 6th FARA Africa Agriculture Science Week, and whether there was any remote possibility that it would have been genetically engineered.

Somehow I found my way to the hotel but sleep was not forthcoming. How could it be when all my brain was thinking was “What did I eat that tasted funny? Did it come with packaging? Did I read the labels? All genetically modified foods are supposed to come with some kind of notice for consumer information, aren’t they?”

As I got onto the bus for the field trip on Thursday morning, I could not help but wonder the nuclear aspect of agriculture. Quite often you hear nuclear and the next thing that pops up in the brain is bombs. I had heard before of the Al-Shabaab militia making bombs from fertilizers back home so it was natural for me to think that probably the institute was using biotech to modify the elements of fertilizer to make much stronger bombs. Probably.

We got to the Legon Institute and the chairman of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission was among the people in the welcoming panel. My heart began to race.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the research institute. Let me make this clear: We do not make bombs here,” said Professor Benjamin Nyarko.

“PHEWKS!” I say to myself as I begin to relax and settle in to enjoy a tour of the facility.

What I found most intriguing about the field trip was not the fertilizer that was being made out of compost and human waste, nor was it the gamma radiation technology that was being employed to extend the shelf life of goods so that farmers could exploit more distant markets. Though the technology of using radiation to breed sterile male fruit flies for population control, similar to a successful programwith tsetse flies in Zanzibar some years ago, was quite informative, it wasn’t what most interested me either.

It was the year of the institute’s establishment that really got me thinking. 1963. Five decades exactly. That’s how long  it has been churning new technologies to improve the agriculture sector.

“If atomic research were so risky, surely by now several generations of ‘mutated’ Ghanians would have been walking around the streets of Accra by now!” I said to myself.

Even now I wonder how many people at that field visit were going through the same emotional roller coaster that I was on. There is so much propaganda and misinformation about genetically modified foods and the use of nuclear energy in agriculture that is holding back Africa from being the world’s food basket. I hope my companions on the AASW6 field trip had the same enlightening experience, and that ignorance and baseless fear will not keep we as Africans from triumphing over hunger.

“My people perish from a lack of knowledge.” Hosea  4:6

The writer is a Science and Development journalist based in Kenya

First published on the AASW6 blog.

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WHO ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE TASKFORCE LOOKING INTO GMO BAN IN KENYA?

By George Achia

A cabinet meeting chaired by former president, Mwai Kibaki, in November last year, directed the then public health minister Beth Mugo to ban Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) imports until the country is able to certify that GMOs have no negative impact on people’s health.

The ban came as a shock to many biotech players including scientists and GM regulatory agencies such as the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) who maintained they were never consulted.

It was also feared that the ban could be a significant blow to progress on biotechnology research and development in the country.

Mugo then moved fast to constitute a taskforce to look at all available evidence and scientific research before lifting the ban. The report from the taskforce is expected later this month.

One pertinent question that many are asking, and which even experts from the National Commission of Science and Technology (NACOST) fear to tell journalists is: who are the members of this taskforce? What are their backgrounds and which organizations are they drawn from?

When I asked Dr. Benson Mburu, senior science secretary at NASCOSTI about this, he was very protective and stingy with information.

“The taskforce is still doing its work and based on the report they will submit later next month (August), the government can make its decision,” he told journalists attending a press conference dubbed Great Debate on GMOs in Kenya at KICC on Thursday last week.

“I may know some people in the taskforce from individual basis but that is something I cannot talk about and the criteria used to appoint them,” he said.

While dismissing the ban as inconsequential and lacking the backing of the law since the ban was never gazetted, Romano Kiome, former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture once said in a meeting “although a “political stand” could hold sway for a time it is no substitute for a considered professional judgment”.

The ban came long after the country had put in place agencies mandated to oversee various regulatory issues. Such agencies include NBA, NACOSTI, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services and National Environment Management Authority.

It could be worth knowing whether the people in the taskforce are drawn from such agencies as they are better placed to tell whether there is “lack of sufficient information on the public health impact of such foods”, as Mugo argued.

Of interest to know also are the exact issues that the taskforce is looking at, because Kenya had set up, for instance, the NBA, tasked with supervising the transfer, handling and use of GMOs.

In addition, research institutions both national and international; have confirmed that there is scientific information on safety on GM products on human besides improving agricultural productivity.

As it stands now, according to Dr Mburu, it is the Attorney General office to give legal direction since “NBA which is mandated to handle GMO issues was never consulted and there was no gazettment of the ban,” said Mburu. Because

 The writer is a Science Writer based in Kenya and a Sci-DeV Fellow

 

 

 

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