What you need to know:
- Police have been enforcing the curfew using excessive force, which has claimed more than 20 lives this year alone.
- People taking pregnant women to hospital are not issued with a night pass but would get a special one from some hospitals to return home.
Pregnancy is such a beautiful time because of the anticipation of a baby. But it can be precarious since the unexpected can occur even in the best of situations. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it more stressful; the risk of severe disease is higher for pregnant women than for others.
Kenyan women have another added worry: Access to health facilities during night curfew hours due to fear of the police. The government’s containment measures from March last year include overnight curfews. The latest announcement on October 4 extended the 10pm-4am curfew by 30 days.
Police have been enforcing the curfew using excessive force, which has claimed more than 20 lives this year alone. Media reports — like the one about the death of a four-month-old baby after police in Kisii prevented a taxi from passing a roadblock, and police beating to death a boda boda rider who was taking a pregnant woman to hospital — only add to the anxiety of pregnant women.
People taking pregnant women to hospital are not issued with a night pass but would get a special one from some hospitals to return home.
When on April 17 police placed roadblocks on Thika Superhighway, those caught outside past the curfew time had to sleep in their vehicles. There were genuine cases of essential service providers and people going to hospital caught up in the midst of the offenders. But police refused to let them pass, citing orders from ‘above’.
Kenya’s maternal mortality
I have a two-month-old baby. During my third trimester, I constantly worried about the time my labour pains would come. I prayed that it would start during the day or early evening to give me ample time to get to the hospital safely.
My previous experience with labour pains 19 years ago added to my anxiety. Then 18, with no idea what it felt like, I went on with my activities. I would give birth outside our house in the informal settlement, in the 3am cold, on my way to hospital. I did not want a replay of that horrible experience.
When I was past my due date by a week, I took myself to hospital. I insisted on inducing labour instead of waiting it out — even though that is known to be more painful than natural labour. Epidurals (pain relief medication) are not provided in our public hospitals. I still chose the pain to uncertainty and potential clashes with the police.
What about pregnant women who are less informed about their options? How many of them end up delivering their babies at home, without professional help? Kenya’s maternal mortality was 342 per 100,000 live births in 2017. A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study shows a potential 38 per cent higher maternal mortality in low- and middle-income countries due to Covid-19.
The curfews, though intended for the public good, may not serve their purpose — to avoid night gatherings, which could spread Covid-19. If the containment strategy is not reviewed, Kenya might be creating mini pandemics in the midst of a major one.
Ms Otieno, a 2021 Aspen New Voices fellow, is the founder of Mwanadada CBO. [email protected]