MACHAKOS, Kenya, Jul 5 – It is divine to have a child.
But that comes with a cost that one has to pay to nurture and bring up the future generation.
A task that is faced by a myriad of challenges from the very initial stages of birth which if not carefully dealt with, can lead to death.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of all early child deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated, “with access to simple, affordable interventions.”
Birth complications are identified as among the leading causes of child deaths.
Some of these complications come at that crucial stage of birth and if not well handled, by trained specialists, it can cause death of the child, mother or both.
– Free Health Maternity –
Of the many promises the Jubilee government made to Kenyans, free health maternity is one of them and true to their word, it was implemented in 2013.
But has it been effective?
Every hospital is paid Sh5, 000 for every delivery while health centers are normally given Sh2, 500.
– Case Study –
Jackline Ndungwa is a mother of two, with her first child born after President Uhuru Kenyatta made good on the free maternity promise in June of 2013.
The 22-year-old resident of Kangundo Constituency within Machakos County has a months old baby born late last year.
She understands well how the free maternity programme works.
“I am from a humble background but thanks to this programme, I delivered at a decent hospital since I did not need to pay anything,” she said during an Interview with Capital FM News at Kangundo Level 4 hospital.
“It is working and we normally get good services.”
In her village, she says, “some parents used to die while giving birth through the help of traditional birth attendants in the village. But it has changed since the government launched the free health maternity programme.”
And such were the sentiments of other beneficiaries of the programme within the county, who are all aware of the sad tales of the past.
She admits were it not for the free services, the village would have been her option, to cut the expenses.
– How it works –
Capital FM News sought to establish from a medical practitioner just how effective the programme has been, despite various challenges within the health sector.
Kangundo Level 4 hospital Medical Superintendent Robert Kilonzo says more women are now going to the hospital, leading to reduced child mortalities.
“Mothers used to pay for the services and you know not all people are empowered. Most people opted to be attended to by traditional birth attendants or deliver at home. Some mothers could bleed to death,” Kilonzo said.
“Others would have obstructed labour that would lead to death but the situation has changed… the government has saved the lives of the children and their mothers.”
“Children would also contract diseases due to the poor skills of delivery and they would not be diagnosed,” he added.
Just to put his sentiments to context, he compares statistics before the programme and after it was launched in June 2013.
In 2011, he says the hospital registered 2,120 deliveries in the hospital while in 2012; about 1,953 babies were born in the facility.
In 2013, the number of skilled deliveries increased to 2,201, in 2014 to 2,826, in 2015 they increased to 3,120 but in 2016 the numbers dropped to 2,675 due to the health workers’ strike according to Kilonzo.
“Once the mother delivers here, we are reimbursed by the government,” he stated.
Under the programme, he said mothers are provided with free balanced meals and sanitary pads, “they are no longer buying them…from the time of deliver to post delivery.”
Under the programme, he says the National Government also facilitated the hospital with a new X-Ray machine, a new digital X-Ray platform and a refurbished new theatre, “to ensure that a mother who is taken for an operation will have confirmatory ultrasound done in theatre.”
The new born unit has also been expanded from nine to 29 beds.
His appeal is for the government to scale up the programme by ensuring hospitals have more modern facilities.
Before the launch of the Free Maternity Care Programme, only 40 per cent of women were delivering in health facilities, a trend that has changed and the statistics are currently more than 70 per cent in the country.
By the end of 2016, there were more than 1.2 million women who delivered under skilled care in the country.
Maternal deaths and infant mortality rates have also fallen down to 39 per cent in infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
Though the health sector has significantly improved, industrial actions due to salary disputes remain a major challenge.