The little girl’s beating heart and clenched fist spoke volumes of Christine Lokai’s long pregnancy journey.
Her daughter’s birth through Caesarean section (C-section surgery) was testimony of the steps Samburu County had to take to catch up with the rest of Kenya.
On June 3, doctors and staff at the Baragoi Sub-County Hospital in Samburu County marked a milestone by conducting the first C-section surgery at the facility, 69 years since its establishment.
Seeing her baby chuckle at her as she wrapped it in a shawl evokes memory of Lokai enduring prolonged labour but without delivering and medics recommended surgery to save mother and child.
The unforgiving terrain from her Nachola village, some 80 kilometres from Baragoi, did not make things any easier. Apart from the distance in the scorching sun, there is no network coverage in her village.
“I was excited and happy to get this kind of service here in Baragoi. We laboured for nine months and still endured the pain due to lack of specialists and an operating theatre,” Lokai says.
Dr Anderson Wafula who is in charge of the facility and oversaw the operation said the surgery was a milestone for the hospital, which was established in 1954.
“It was a success story because the surgery was the first one in the Baragoi health facility. We extracted a live female infant weighing 2.5kg. The baby is healthy and doing well,” Dr Wafula said.
Every week, the facility gets two to three mothers in the maternity that are in dire need of an operating theatre’s facilities.
Dr Wafula said the hospital can now attend to many cases that could not be treated before whenever there were complications for expectant mothers.
Remoteness makes most mothers in Samburu North deliver babies in a challenging environment where affordable healthcare is a nightmare due to lack of specialised treatment.
Dr Wafula said the new facilities will reduce the number of mothers dying while seeking services in these far-flung arid regions.
Usually, expectant mothers with cases similar to Lokai’s were formerly referred to the Samburu County Referral Hospital in Maralal, 112 km away.
This endangered mothers’ lives and even some lost the battle to live before being attended to.
Since June, Baragoi Hospital has performed procedures and other delicate surgeries, most of which were once a preserve of major hospitals in Nakuru, Nanyuki and Nairobi.
The latest was the first-ever prostatectomy operation on October 18.
Samburu Governor Jonathan Lelelit reckoned that the recent procedures were a game-changer in healthcare provision to pastoralists in the region.
Mr Lelelit said his administration will continue to equip and operationalise the operating theatre section in all hospitals in the region.
“At Baragoi Sub County Hospital, the first ever prostatectomy operation in Samburu North was performed last week. In June, a Caesarean section was successfully conducted. These surgeries are the first in Baragoi since Adam and Eve walked planet Earth,” said Mr Lelelit.
The county chief said the hospital will serve the vast Samburu North region from Suguta Valley to South Horr and beyond. “Our mothers really suffered before we equipped Baragoi health centre. Most cases which needed even minor surgeries were being referred to Maralal town, which is far away,” he added that it was a “major universal healthcare milestone”.
The new ambulance will boost the services of a fridge-fitted vehicle that was issued by the Ministry of Health to provide immunisation coverage in the pastoral region.
The special vehicle was handed over to Mr Lelelit and Woman Representative Pauline Lenguris in May. The vehicle, equipped with a GPS tracking device and temperature monitoring unit, is specially designed for transporting vaccines.
Samburu County faces an uphill task of realising community health goals considering a large percentage of locals were nomadic pastoralists who must trek from one place to another in search of water and pasture for their animals.
Mr Lelelit said his administration was making strides in the health sector, and that the addition of the fridge-fitted vehicle was “a great boost.”
He had earlier announced he was seeking to increase the health budget in a bid to transform the region’s healthcare sector and improve services and realise Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
He expressed optimism that the investment in remote health systems was vital if the devolved unit is to achieve Universal Health Coverage. The county boss reiterated the importance of health volunteers in achieving UHC targets saying they will help to eliminate preventable maternal and child deaths and strengthen resilience to public health emergencies.
Samburu County signed a Community Health Services Bill 2021 into law to ensure community health volunteers are trained on basic health skills to enable them to administer services at the household level with the intention of responding faster to emergencies.
At the same time, Samburu plans to elevate Wamba Level Three Hospital to Level Four, to improve the provision of health services.
The county is constructing a new Outpatient Department, a radiology and a theatre room to have the facility located in Samburu East elevated to a Level Four status. A public mortuary, which will be the second one in the region, is also planned.
“Construction of the outpatient department block is ongoing. We will install equipment necessary to elevate Wamba to a Level Four hospital,” Mr Lelelit said.
The facility serves the vast Samburu East region including Archers Post, Sereolipi, Lolokwe, and Waso.