OPINION: Enhance fight maternal mortality during COVID-19
WHO maternal mortality estimates indicate that about 810 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 94 per cent of all maternal deaths occurring in low and lower middle income countries like Kenya.
An estimated 3.6 billion people worldwide are reported to lack access to essential health services with a shortfall of 12.9 percent of health workers globally.
The current global pandemic is no doubt an added burden to different clusters of the global population, especially pregnant women.
Availability of skilled care before, during and post birth is critical for saving the lives of women and their newborns, particularly because most maternal and neonatal deaths occur around the time of delivery.
In Kenya, women’s risk of dying from maternal causes is attributed to several issues that the Ministry of Health is yet to address.
These include limited availability of health services in rural areas that has forced people to travel to towns to get services, where most of the hospitals in town areas are stretched.
Recently, 12- year-old Virginia Aoko from Rukala village, Busia county was forced to row her pregnant mother across Lake Victoria to hospital late in the night.
The nearest health facility was 10 kilometres away and floods had marooned the camp where they live after their home was submerged.
The County government of Busia should urgently establish a health care centre within Rukala village to avoid similar incidents in future.
Preventing complications around pregnancy or even maternal deaths is possible with existing knowledge and technology.
Affordable, diverse and widespread reproductive health initiatives such as ‘A doctor on call’, ‘Free transport for child delivery’ should be availed especially in the urban and rural informal settlements where access to these services is limited.
Pregnant women can have access to medical care during the curfew period through provisions of FREE medical advice and transport to health facilities.
Kenya can reduce the number of maternal deaths by helping girls and women try and avoid unintended pregnancies; monitoring women during their pregnancies and managing medical complications that arise during pregnancy and delivery.
The health sector has been hit hard not only in Kenya, but globally, as the impact of COVID-19 continues to exacerbate capacity challenges particularly in developing countries.
However, the sector has also seen some great innovations that continue to offer assistance to the general public, especially women, during this uncertain period.
The most critical interventions are family planning, antenatal care, skilled delivery care, and postnatal care; all of which must be expanded and improved especially in parts of Kenya that have the highest burden of maternal deaths.
Maternal mortality can be drastically reduce amidst the pandemic. The Division of Family Health – within the Ministry of Health – and partners should develop and support reproductive health initiatives that are geared to meet the needs of pregnant women.
Alvin Mwangi is a Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) advocate at the Network of Adolescents and Youth of Africa (NAYA Kenya) in Nairobi, Kenya