Free maternity vs hiring nurses; misplaced priorities?

July 21, 2013 2:09 pm
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In keeping with his inauguration pledge to provide free health care to expectant mothers within his first 100 days in office, President Kenyatta directed all public hospitals to scrap all maternity fees on June 1/FILE
In keeping with his inauguration pledge to provide free health care to expectant mothers within his first 100 days in office, President Kenyatta directed all public hospitals to scrap all maternity fees on June 1/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, July 21 – Even with a nurses’ strike looming in the horizon, expectant mothers will most likely describe President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first one hundred days in office as success.

In keeping with his inauguration pledge to provide free health care to expectant mothers within his first 100 days in office, President Kenyatta directed all public hospitals to scrap all maternity fees on June 1.

And although the move was lauded in many quarters, there were some teething problems with the government being accused of not preparing fully for the transition.

“Before they introduced free maternity services in public health facilities, we were short of 80,000 nurses. Now with the free service, our work load has increased by about 40 percent and we are currently only 15,000,” Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) Secretary General Seth Panyako said following the Presidential directive.

And it is on this premise that the KNUN has vowed to down its tools come July 26 unless the government immediately hires a total of 40,000 nurses to help lighten the load made heavier by free maternity services.

“That is non-negotiable. We cannot have one nurse conducting 50 deliveries within a period of five hours. That’s witchcraft. It’s not nursing practice,” Panyako said.

Acknowledging the additional strain the provision of free maternity services has had on public health workers, Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich committed to hiring an additional 11,600 health workers this financial year.

“I have allocated Sh3.1 billion and Sh522 million for recruitment of 30 community nurses and 10 community health workers respectively per constituency to provide quality health care services to Kenyans,” Rotich said on June 13 as he presented the 2013/2014 budget estimates to Parliament.

And while cognisant of the labour pains that have accompanied the birthing of the free maternity government project, Health Secretary James Macharia is encouraged by the increased number of expectant mothers seeking professional aid.

“Instead of mothers delivering at home, they come to proper health facilities because with that we shall reduce the maternal mortality rate. Currently we are among the highest in the world at about 488 maternal deaths for every 100,000 against the global average of 210,” Macharia explained to Capital FM News.

According to government records the number of deliveries that took place at public health facilities in the month of June increased by 3,587; an increase of 7.9 percent compared to the month of May.

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