Maternal health: Step up efforts to save lives of mothers and newborns

Echoes of silent sorrows: Kevin Shitiabai's account on losing his wife

What you need to know:

  •  Poor maternal health services are robbing Kenya of many lives.
  • Sadly, most of these deaths are preventable.

Poor maternal health services continue to rob Kenya of many lives—those of young women whose productive power would contribute to setting the country on a trajectory towards marked political and socioeconomic development.

They die from complications during and after pregnancy or childbirth. Sadly, most of these complications are treatable or preventable.

The problem, though not unique to Kenya, should be tackled decisively. Available statistics are worrying as one incident after another causes untold sorrow to families.

As an indispensable public health service, maternal health remains a global priority concern. Desirable outcomes are only possible when there is seamless delivery.

On a global scale, a woman dies every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth, according to the United Nations. The intergovernmental organisation says the deaths are concentrated in poor countries and those mired in conflicts.

Kenya, for its part, has made massive progress in ensuring that mothers give birth in health facilities. However, there is a new elephant in the room: failures in maternity wards, some of which are caused by staff.

Beyond the need to ensure all deliveries are facility-based, the country has to go one step further – that of achieving the highest quality of care during childbirth. Presently, this is not the case.

Across the counties, many hospitals are ill-equipped to satisfactorily handle women during emergencies due to complications during labour and delivery. Because of this, pregnancy and childbirth have become a high-risk affair and getting out of maternity wards safe and sound is a miracle. 

Pregnant women hold a special place in society as bearers of future generations. This role is fundamental to life and underscores their sacred space of womanhood.

That being so, we cannot afford to continue losing lives unnecessarily when all that is needed is getting the basics of maternal and child health right.

Resource constraint is a glaring problem in our facilities, especially those run by the counties. Private maternity wards are no different. They, too, are fraught with avoidable dangers.

These facilities run the risk of experiencing a declining demand for delivery services and that would push many expectant mothers back to the traditional birth attendants. The aftermath would be devastating.

As part of the panacea for these ills, the county and national governments should deploy adequate equipment and qualified personnel as the basis for enhanced quality of care.

Capacity building of healthcare professionals is another major path to promoting care quality. The staff have to keep abreast of scientific and technological advancements that facilitate safe delivery.

Some deaths or scarring harm are due to negligence, and occur when a medical practitioner mismatches his actions with acceptable standards of care.

Also falling in this category is obstetric violence, which can be a result of denied treatment, disregard for pain or needs, physical violence, invasive acts, forced intervention, verbal humiliations, dehumanising treatment or unneeded prescription of medication.

For such cases, there is no better way to ensure closure for affected families than supporting their calls for justice. The bad eggs within the healthcare system have to be purged and, where possible, prosecuted and punished.

No culprit should be left to get off scot-free. It is within every Kenyan’s right to expect reasonable standards of care. This is the hope of every expectant mother getting admission to a maternity ward, hence practitioners who breach their duty have no reason to continue serving in this critical field.

Three young men have taken us through their journeys through grief. They have yet to come to terms with the death of their wives, and blame the medical staff who were on hand to help them deliver. They have appealed for justice.

Theirs is just the tip of the iceberg of an evolving crisis that reverberates across the country. The accounts offer valuable insights to the government and policymakers on the need for uninterrupted care during emergencies.