Kenya needs to step up game with 500 days to MDG deadline

Too many mothers in Kenya are still dying in childbirth with just 500 days to go to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths to 147 per 100,000 live births.

Too many mothers in Kenya are still dying in childbirth with just 500 days to go to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths to 147 per 100,000 live births.

In June 2013, the Kenyan government introduced free maternal services in a bid to realize Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5, which aim to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health respectively by 2015. The government’s efforts towards realising these goals might not be enough but they are a step in the right direction and over the last year many women have benefitted.

Vero, who’s been living with HIV for the last ten years, lost her first baby due to HIV-related complications. This time though she was assured the possibility of having a child who was HIV-free, thanks to the free maternal services. Vero recently gave birth to a healthy child after undergoing a caesarean section.

Scaling up maternal healthcare services

“I am now complete. I am a woman and a mother,” Vero said, with a priceless expression on her face as she recalled the first memories of holding her son. “I was told my baby could be born without the virus if I carefully attended clinic and took my prescribed medicines to prevent mother to child transmission and to rule out the risk during delivery, I chose to undergo this procedure to have my son delivered.”

Since the introduction of free maternal and neonatal healthcare services in Kenya, many more women are now seeking skilled health services as opposed to a few years back when this was an unobtainable dream.

According to the government of Kenya, an estimated 9,400 babies were born with HIV in the country in 2013. HIV-related complications accounted for 15 per cent of all deaths among children under the age of five in the same year. Only 43 per cent of deliveries took place in health facilities and maternal mortality rates were at a high of 488 per 100,000 live births in 2011.

In the last year, the maternal mortality rate has dropped to 360 per 100,000 live births, but with just 500 days to go it is still some way of the target of 147.

HIV and giving birth

As well as government efforts to support and scale up access to maternal and child health services by building more facilities and waiving the fees, Kenya’s first lady Margaret Kenyatta set up the ‘Beyond Zero’ campaign in December 2013. The initiative seeks to stop new HIV infections among children and improve overall maternal, newborn and child health. Already the foundation has unveiled mobile clinics to address this and help put an end to maternal and infant mortality.

To accelerate and support MDG 6 (to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases), the government says it has ensured a continuous and consistent supply of antiretroviral drugs in all government hospitals, which is done at no cost to users.

But according to one doctor in Kisumu, who spoke under condition of anonymity, the move to waive healthcare fees for mothers has increased demand and outstretched the supply and provisions of commodities in hospitals.

“The announcement of free healthcare has led to an increase in numbers of people who want services expecting not to pay anything,” he said. “This has an impact on the few staff in the health facilities so it means that they have to work harder and for longer hours because the number of staff has not been increased to cater for the demand. This in turn has led to burn out and reduced the quality of health services.”

Read more about HIV and the post 2015 development agenda