Recently, I listened to a discussion on safe motherhood on a local FM station under the umbrella of the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA), an international coalition that pushes for change to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for women and newborns around the world.
The WRA goodwill ambassadors to Kenya, Jacky Ominde and Felix Odiwuor (better known as Jalang’o) highlighted the experiences most mothers deal with during delivery.
One thing that came out clear was the dire need to make life-saving interventions that will help drastically reduce maternal deaths.
Official statistics indicate that Kenya currently loses more than 9,000 women and 51,000 babies annually to pregnancy related complications. This translates into a daily loss of 26 women and 140 babies.
This high rate of maternal death has remained unchanged in Kenya for the last seven years because most women prefer delivering at home under the care of unskilled traditional birth attendants, hence the high number of deaths. This is partly attributed to their inability to afford the cost of hospital visits.
Inaccessibility of health facilities in remote areas of Kenya has also served to contribute to the high mortality rate. Many expectant women in rural areas either die while giving birth or lose their babies on delivery as they try to get to health facilities, the nearest of which are sometimes several kilometers away.
This has also discouraged many pregnant women from seeking pre-natal care as advised by medics.
The radio discussion boiled over to an even more animated one on social media which singled out availability, access, affordability, awareness, quality and sensitization of pre and post natal healthcare services as contributing factors.
The government has in the past rolled out lofty strategies to address some of these concerns. The Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation set up a Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) to make maternal and child health services accessible through better supply chain management and procurement of drugs and other supplies.
The implementation of the same is geared towards rehabilitating health centres and dispensaries in rural areas. RRI also seeks to ensure that funds are channeled directly to health facilities as well as retaining staff retentions and keeping them motivated.
A report on Maternal Newborns and Child Health and the Countdown to 2015 estimates that it costs an additional KSh640 per person annually to scale up antenatal and emergency services at the time of birth. This is an amount that the government can afford if you ask me.
But even as we wait to feel the effect of those government interventions, WRA ambassadors in Kenya are proposing a one on one sensitization of the womenfolk on importance of attending ante-natal clinic, and men on their roles and responsibilities in ensuring their wives are well taken car of and that they deliver safely.
Lowering the infant and maternal mortality rates is one of the yardsticks of determining the level of development the world over. If we allow our women to remain ignorant, then some government department is sleeping on the job. But even so, we can take the initiative to educate our women, encourage them and give them support in our small ways.
Ms Keya writes for Pregnant and Baby Love magazines, both are reproductive health and baby care publications