First Lady Margaret Kenyatta addresses Harvard forum

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta addresses Harvard forum

First Margaret Kenyatta has said good health is key to harnessing Kenya’s demographic dividend and maximizing human capital investment.

Speaking during the Harvard University Annual Leadership Forum, the First Lady said without good health, speeding up demographic transition and improving productivity of the workforce, particularly for women and the youth, can be a challenge.

“It is critical to make strategic investments that improve health outcomes especially in reversing trends in HIV infections amongst young people, negative consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages,” she said on Monday.

Mrs. Kenyatta shared her experience from the Beyond Zero campaign in Kenya during the forum for Education and Health Ministers in the US.

Health and Education Ministers from 15 African countries also attended the event including Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki.

The theme for the meeting is “Catalyzing the Demographic Dividend: Enabling Women and Youth”.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta emphasized the need to improve child survival by focusing on prevention of infectious diseases, boosting immunization, improving nutrition and strengthening interventions for the first 1000 days.

She also disclosed that her efforts to help reduce maternal and neo-natal mortality, and HIV infections among women and newborns through the Beyond Zero campaign.

According to her, Beyond Zero was to spur a ‘movement’ across the country on access to quality healthcare.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at the Harvard Health and Education Ministers forum. Photo/PSCU
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at the Harvard Health and Education Ministers forum. Photo/PSCU


“The idea needed an anchor – the mobile clinics, a platform and innovative fundraising methods to raise capital for implementation of the initiative across the country,” she said.

The Beyond Zero campaign has seen mobile clinics distributed to each of the 47 counties in Kenya in the last five years, taking quality healthcare services closer to communities even in the remotest parts of the country.

“Why were women across Kenya (in urban and rural setting) dying while giving life? Why, for example, were children in Marsabit – Kenya’s largest county by land mass coverage – dying before celebrating their 5th birthday? How could this preventable problem be tackled and make healthcare more accessible to marginalized groups?” she posed.

She pointed out that from her experience with Beyond Zero, tackling an issue as big as provision of quality healthcare across the country required more than a collection of capable minds.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta with participants of the Havard health forum in the U.S. Photo/PSCU
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta with participants of the Havard health forum in the U.S. Photo/PSCU

“It required boldness, innovativeness, a spirit of humility and capacity to critically question the status quo to move beyond ‘business as usual’ and dare to do things differently,” she said.

The First Lady added: “I know that the Harvard Leadership Program prides itself on nurturing exactly those kinds of qualities and I hope I will encourage you to embrace purposeful confidence to tackle challenges that bring transformative change.”

In this regard, the First Lady informed the forum that the Beyond Zero campaign is Kenya’s first public-private partnership of national scale focusing on maternal and child health.

She assured that the initiative will continuously galvanize high-level leadership, catalyze action, build partnership and mobilise resources towards reducing maternal and child deaths, ending new HIV infections among children and reducing HIV related deaths among women and children in Kenya.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is taken on a tour of Harvard University.  Photo/PSCU
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is taken on a tour of Harvard University. Photo/PSCU

“Private sector involvement in health is sometimes promoted from an ideological viewpoint. However, for Beyond Zero, private sector inclusion was fundamental because a healthy and empowered workforce needs to take charge of its health, make lifestyle decisions and be financially stable to save, borrow and invest,” she said.

Another pre-condition for success of Beyond Zero, the First Lady said, was working closely with the National Government in complimenting efforts geared towards provision of healthcare for all.

She pointed out that in working with the Ministry of Health, Beyond Zero was aligned to maternal and child Health policies.

“In 2014, when we launched the initiative, the Ministry of Health also invested an estimate of $400 million in initiatives to reduce HIV transmission and maternal and child mortality, to increase the number of skilled healthcare providers and to equip the existing facilities with relevant supplies,” she said.

At county level where the responsibility of health provision in Kenya lies, the First Lady said Beyond Zero initiative has become a major partner to the devolved units that are now investing heavily in health issues and improving health services to the hard to reach populations.

She said the Kenyan public was the third key ingredient for the successful implementation of Beyond Zero.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and Health CS Sicily Kariuki. Photo/PSCU
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and Health CS Sicily Kariuki. Photo/PSCU

“By participating in the half marathons and championing conversations on conventional and social media, Kenyans successfully stimulated social dialogue on improved health, seeking behaviour and social accountability for the health of mothers and children,” the First Lady said.

She cited the reduction of infant mortality from 52 to 39 per 1,000 live births and the fall of under five years mortality from 74 to 52 per 1,000 as some of the milestones the campaign has achieved in the last five years.

In the same period, the First Lady said, maternal mortality dropped from 488 to 362 per 100,000.

She commended the Kenya Government for introducing a programme that is investing over $30million to build and upgrade hospitals across the country, equipping them with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment which citizens can access at minimal costs.

“The Government has also removed public hospital charges for maternity services in order to enable expecting mothers and their unborn children to receive critical care at zero cost,” the First Lady said.

The National Health Insurance (NHIF) coverage now incorporates expectant mothers and this raised deliveries by skilled attendants from 44 percent in 2013 to 66 percent in 2017, she said.

The First Lady emphasized that in the journey to ‘leave no one behind’, governments must foster inter-sectoral action for resilient health systems at all levels.

“We must also invest in health systems, including human resources and infrastructure with the goal of enhancing access to quality health services and guaranteeing adequate financing for the health sector,” the First Lady said.

She challenged participants at the forum to turn their attention to the daunting issues of the 21st century and use all resources at their disposal to build sustainable solutions that count for decades to come.

In March this year, the First Lady launched a second strategic plan for her Beyond Zero campaign aimed at securing gains made in the past five years, expanding her initiative to cover cancer and fistula.

The CEO of the Harvard University Ministerial Leadership Forum, Mr Michael Sinclair, said the First Lady’s address will significantly influence the participants’ momentum to make positive change in their countries.