The shortsightedness of ‘Beyond zero’ critics!

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The First Lady’s Half Marathon came and passed. The race which had set a target of Shs 105 Million outran itself to achieve over Shs 180 Million. Launched by the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, the “Beyond Zero” Campaign aims at eradicating preventable maternal and child mortality in Kenya. There has been a myriad of online debates, several articles in the local dailies and a deluge of tweets dedicated to either discrediting the marathon or supporting it. Whichever side of the divide you stand on, facts are never discriminatory. Join me as I take you on a journey of the reality on the ground.

The grim reality is this:

According to UNFPA, Kenya’s persistently high rate of maternal mortality is among the highest in the world. Estimates range from 360 deaths per 100,000 births, according to 2013 State of the World Population report. A recent analysis by the University of Nairobi showed that 98 percent of these deaths is concentrated in just 15 of the country’s 47 counties. The 15 counties include – Garissa, Homa Bay, Isiolo, Kakamega, Kisumu, Lamu, Mandera, Marsabit, Migori, Nairobi, Nakuru, Siaya, Taita-Taveta, Turkana, and Wajir.

The common direct causes of death among pregnant women in Kenya are hypertension and hemorrhage. HIV and complications of unsafe abortion add salt to injury. These problems are exacerbated by poor health infrastructure, low rates of skilled birth attendance, low access to family planning services and high rates of adolescent pregnancy.

If the president fought corruption, the first lady would not have to run, so it has been argued by a section of Kenyans. While I agree that we need to amputate corruption at all costs, any effort that is geared towards reducing the current reality of maternal health in Kenya is welcome. Constitutionally, the First Lady has no official duties to perform, neither was she voted by Kenyans to any public office. She could fold her arms or enjoy the strapping of power and lead a passive life in the shadow of the president. But she chose the less traveled road of actually doing something.

What the critics want are for mothers and children to continue dying as we wait for corruption to be defeated completely. Surely, to a mother and baby whose lives were threatened, does it matter to them who saved them? While I agree that corruption greatly impedes service delivery, we shouldn’t trivialize the efforts of the first lady to address a problem which is claiming lives as we speak.

Running is not easy. Obesity and laziness are real problems. But Margaret Kenyatta, powered with her motherly instincts decided to endure a strict regimen of training, then endure a grueling race; which she didn’t have to run but she did because she is passionate enough about mothers and children.

More grim statistics shows that only 44 percent of Kenyan women gives birth in the presence of skilled health personnel, who are able to address complications. Only 39 per cent of women uses modern methods of birth control, which, by allowing women to space and plan their pregnancies, reduces the risk of maternal death. And 106 girls give birth out of every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19.

In her speech during the event, the first lady Margaret Kenyatta had the following to say, “Today, we have collectively managed to raise money to buy fully stocked mobile clinics for the remaining eleven counties who were yet to receive them. We have already established partnerships with 36 Counties to support the stocking and refurbishment of existing Beyond Zero mobile clinics. Because of you, all 47 counties will soon have access to mobile clinics to support the health of their residents.”

Since the campaign was launched in January 2014, Beyond Zero has made a significant impact by providing fully equipped mobile health clinics that bring essential services closer to vulnerable communities, including people living in informal settlements.

There is nothing wrong when private citizens engage in initiatives that are meant to make life better for the ordinary Kenyan. The ‘Beyond Zero’ initiative is not a substitute for efforts by the both central and county governments to improve the health sector. And did you  know that health is a devolved function except for referral hospitals?

As corruption is fought, her efforts to reduce maternal mortality should be emulated by more Kenyans. If the first lady can sacrifice the comfort and pleasures of state house to run, how much more should we as Kenyans identify problems in our communities and try to solve them? Calling for accountability on how our taxes are spent is a good habit, but we must also work towards making our communities better through private initiatives.

My brothers and sisters, I know that a number of us have got serious cobwebs of ethnicity in our eyes which must fall off. We only judge matters from our ethnic prism. But trying to pour water in her efforts is very myopic.

You who is busy criticizing the First Lady’s Half Marathon, what have you done for your country? What tangible problem have you solved in your community? If all you have done for your country is to complain, criticize or vote for the corrupt and based on ethnicity, then we probably need to organize another marathon to get rid of your backward mentality.

Dannish Odongo works for Capital FM as a digital media strategist. He runs a blog on leadership and faith dannish.co.ke.

Follow him @Dannishodongo

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