Changing Lives, One Woman at a Time: Maternal Health in Kenya

Advancing the maternal and child health agenda in Kenya requires collective action from the international development community, donors and local organizations and communities.
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Photo Credit: @UNFPAKen

Kenya is one of the most developed economies in East and Central Africa and has demonstrated leadership in overcoming some of the major human development challenges that face Sub-Saharan Africa. As we race towards the Millennium Development Goals, the country is set to meet many of the development targets by 2015.

On the issue of maternal and child health in Kenya however, there is much work to be done. Mr. James Macharia, the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Health, highlighted the challenge and said that, "unfortunately each day 15 women and 290 children die as a result of pregnancy complications--including giving birth, HIV and several curable and preventable childhood diseases".

According to the Ministry of State for Devolution and Planning's National Development and Vision 2030, 43.8 percent of births in Kenya were attended to by trained health personnel as of 2011 against a 2015 target of 90 percent. Only 43 percent of deliveries take place in health facilities. Contraceptive prevalence rate is at 46 percent up from 39 percent in 2000 against a 2015 target of 70 percent.

"Universal access to sexual and reproductive health services including family planning and maternal health is a human right at the core of sustainable development." This was a key message that emerged from the 24th April, 2014 meeting that brought together the wives of the governors of Kenya's 47 counties. "Women and girls must be at the heart of any future development policies. This is key to saving lives, advancing economic development, promoting environmental sustainability and advancing well-being, equity and social justice".

AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death and contributes to almost 15 percent of deaths in children and 20 percent of all maternal deaths. Estimates show that 13,000 new HIV infections among children were recorded in 2012. In the same year, over 100,000 children died before their fifth birthday. The rapidly increasing rate of HIV infections among young women between ages 15 and 24 is equally startling--with an estimated 25,000 incidences per year.

AIDS and sexual and reproductive health are inextricably linked and both are critical for sustainable development. Tackling these issues warrant a unified response from all stakeholders if we really want to deliver on the promise of health, gender equity and human rights for all.

To underscore the need and support for vital services to improve maternal, newborn and health as well as to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, Kenya's First Lady launched the 'Beyond Zero Campaign' in Nairobi earlier this year.

This high-level commitment was translated into concrete action in the form of a policy document to control HIV and promote maternal, newborn and child health. It outlines five objectives for advancing this national agenda: (i) accelerate HIV programmes, (ii) influence investment in high-impact activities to promote maternal and child health and HIV control, (iii) mobilize men as clients, partners and agents of change, (iv) involve communities to address barriers to accessing HIV, maternal and child health services and (v) provide leadership, accountability and recognition to accelerate the attainment of HIV, maternal and child health targets.

Harnessing private sector for both their resources and innovative solutions brings tremendous potential to improve maternal and child health in Kenya. Donors have pledged their support and Kenya's Ministry of Health has announced a 2014 budget of USD 400 million to prevent the rate of HIV transmissions, reduce maternal and child death, and increase the number of skilled healthcare workers and facilities in the country.

Women representatives from Kenya's Senate and National Assembly convened a meeting in October 2013 to improve women's access to healthcare for non-communicable diseases. Deputy Governor of Makueni County Adelina Mwau, who is also a member of the 'Kenya Network of Women Governors' and a former Gender Programme Officer at Oxfam, is implementing measures to empower and educate young girls in schools on their reproductive health. Empowering one woman benefits families, communities and countries, and leadership by women is paramount to improve maternal and health outcomes.

Advancing the maternal and child health agenda in Kenya requires collective action from the international development community, donors and local organizations and communities.

Together we must ensure that mothers survive childbirth and ensure children have a safe and healthy start to life. Delivering on this agenda is within our reach --'no woman should die giving life'.


Mr. Abbas Gullet is the Secretary General of the Kenyan Red Cross as well as Vice President at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya.

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