His Excellency the President Uhuru Kenyatta today opened a workshop that brought together health experts and heads of religious organisations, in a new drive that seeks to reduce maternal deaths in 15 counties in Kenya.
The 15 counties are responsible for 98 per cent of all maternal deaths in the country.
The campaign is being implemented jointly by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of State for Devolution and Planning, the Ministry of Sports and Culture, the Council of Governors and the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya.
The two-day meeting brought together health experts and heads of various Christian, Muslim, Hindu and traditional faiths.
The President said that the free maternity services program had seen a rise in number of women receiving skilled care from 450,000 to over 700,000 annually.
“The tools to prevent maternal health are in our hands, and what we need is the commitment of each one of us wherever we may be,” said the President.
He commended development agencies for a new commitment of over US$ 2 billion to go towards maternal and child health in the next four years.
The workshop will generate commitment from religious institutions and develop plans to exploit the potential of religious organisations to combat maternal mortality. In Kenya, between 18 and 20 women die every day due to complications related to pregnancy.
The worst-affected counties are Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Lamu, Migori, Grarissa, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Turkana, Taita Taveta, Kakamega, Nakuru, Nairobi, Isiolo and Siaya. In November last year, governors, senators and members of parliament from these countries committed to prioritise and allocate more resources towards reducing maternal and new-born deaths in their counties.
While Kenya is set to meet several targets outlined in the Millennium Development Goals, reduction of maternal mortality by three quarters is one of the targets that has proved most difficult to attain.
Maternal mortality in Kenya stands at about 488 per 100,000 live births. About 250,000 women are estimated to suffer from disabilities caused by complications during pregnancy and childbirth each year.
Neonatal illnesses and deaths are also still high, with data showing that infant deaths are down to 74 per 1000 from 115 per 1000 in 2003. Still, more than 60% of all these deaths are thought to be occurring within the neonatal period, with many surviving infants being left with long-term disabilities that impact negatively on their quality of life.
Limited access and inadequate utilisation of essential health services have been identified as leading reasons for these deaths. For instance, 44 percent of births in Kenya were attended to by trained health personnel as of 2011 against a 2015 target of 90 percent.
“The contribution of religious organisations to public health dates back many centuries, and engaging with them has real potential to generate positive change, including alleviating health disparities in our country,” says the Cabinet Secretary for Health James Macharia.
He said that his Ministry’s engagement with religious leaders is recognition that saving women’s lives during pregnancy, delivery and after delivery is not confined to medical interventions.
The Moderator of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya Bishop Mark Kariuki said that placing women at the heart of development policies is key to advancing economic development, environmental sustainability and social justice.
The focus on 15 most affected counties is being supported by UNFPA Kenya. It is expected that religious leaders in these counties will identify county-specific priority actions to reduce maternal mortality and advocate for ending harmful traditional practices that harm women.
“UNFPA recognises that where people worship is often the place where people receive information that can be of value to the health of their families, so we view this engagement as a very valuable one,” says the UNFPA Kenya Country Representative Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee.
For more information please contact:
The Division of Reproductive Health
Ministry of Health
P.O. Box: 30016–00100, Nairobi, Kenya.