Why thousands of Kenyan women still die giving birth

Why thousands of Kenyan women still die giving birth

Back in 2018, four out of every five expectant mothers who died in hospital in Kenya, were because they received poor care.

That’s according to the country’s First Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths.

Five years later Dr. Edward Serem, Head, Division of Reproductive & Maternal Health says that has not changed.

“It’s true. It is sub-optimal care, in the sense that skills are lacking in healthcare workers. Availability of commodities and life-saving equipment. In Kenya, we haven’t attained that,” he said.

Kenya’s maternal mortality rate sits at 355 per 100,000 live births. 

Put plainly, nearly 5000 women and girls die annually due to pregnancy and childbirth complications in the country.

This national average, however, tends to mask a very different and dire picture at the county level.

Speaking on the sidelines of the International Maternal Newborn Health Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, Dr Serem says it’s a matter of haves and have-nots with counties in the Arid and Semi-Aridregions bearing the brunt when it comes to maternal deaths.

That is a concern raised by Dr Frederick Kireki Omanwa, President of the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society when speaking to Citizen TV last month.

“There are some counties where maternal mortality rate is 3,000, 1,700, 1,600 [per 100,000 live births]. We should actually be talking about this every day. What are we doing about our maternal mortality rates?”

An easy remedy according to Dr.Kireki, is getting more health workers on the ground.

It came up in countless papers launched at the IMNHC, including the Born to Soon report that called for an increase in service coverage, improved quality and addressing workforce gaps.

The disparities in service coverage based on one’s wealth in Kenya were glaring, with the report revealing, births attended by skilled health personnel ranged from 35 per cent in the poorer areas to 92 per cent in the richer regions.

These are figures global experts and leaders are looking to improve not just in Kenya. 

Since 2015 global progress in reducing deaths of pregnant women, mothers and babies has plateaued due to decreasing investments in maternal and newborn health.

“We’re only six years and a few months to 2030. If we continue at the area that we’re going we won’t achieve our SDG targets,” said Dr. Queen Dube, Chief of Health Services for Malawi's Ministry of Health.

To hit those targets, countries must move ten times faster than they already are, according to Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director of the Department for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organisation.

“At the moment we are at a rate of decline in maternal mortality of about 1.3 per cent. We have to be at 11 per cent,’’ said Dr Banerjee.

Kenya’s annual rate of decline in maternal mortality rates is slightly better than the global pace, sitting at 3.3 per cent, but is hardly enough to achieve its target of 140 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The average global target is a maternal mortality rate of less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. 

By current estimates, the reality is more than 60 countries will not meet those reduction targets.

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