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Opinion piece by Dr Nicholas Muraguri and Siddarth Chatterjee

Although Kenya has overall made tremendous progress in improving maternal health, some sub-regions remain among the 10 most risky places in the world for women to give birth. The impact is most felt in remote and hard to reach places such as Mandera county, where for every 100,000 live births, about 3,795 women die every year.

Such high loss of lives due to preventable deaths in Kenya is worse than that of wartime Sierra Leone and neighbouring Somalia.

Documented challenges to maternal and child health in Kenya arise from a complex interplay of social, cultural, economic and logistical barriers, coupled with under-resourced facilities and a high fertility rate.

The situation informed the free maternal care policy in 2013 as well as the First Lady’s Beyond Zero campaign to scale up prenatal and postnatal healthcare. Already, there are results to show. For example deliveries under the care of health workers have increased from 44 to 61 per cent.

The Beyond Zero campaign has been instrumental in raising the consciousness of the entire nation on the plight of many often underserved women and girls in desperate need of care.

In recent times, attention is turning to the role of the private sector in delivering quality healthcare.

The private sector has the resources, rigour, expertise and innovative spirit needed to create new and more effective products, services and technologies to deliver public goods. These qualities have not received full attention in improving healthcare and saving lives.

A number of Public Private Partnerships are already helping to improve health outcomes, while creating shared value for the private sector to ensure a sustained engagement that has a social and economic return on investment.

For instance, UNFPA Kenya is partnering with technology company Philips, the Health ministry and the county government to launch a Community Life Centre in Mandera. This unique pilot initiative seeks to improve maternal and child health services by bringing healthcare, technology and communities together. If it succeeds, a rapid scale up will follow.

A partnership between GSK and Save the Children will contribute to an estimated 21 per cent accelerated reduction in maternal and newborn mortality in Bungoma county.

MSD has also been investing in Kenya to support advocacy for cervical cancer prevention and control, and in supporting Kenya’s HPV vaccine programme.

Kenya's private sector is in particular at the forefront of developing mobile health solutions to tackle two of the main challenges for women: affordability and access to sexual and reproductive health. Some of these initiatives include:

Changamka Microhealth, which supports mothers in Nairobi by providing an innovative e-voucher system that helps them access safe birth facilities staffed by skilled birth attendants.

Jamii Smart, which builds on the widespread success of Safaricom’s M-Pesa, is using web portals and SMS messages to deliver clinical services for mothers and case management for children under five linked to community heath monitoring and evaluation system.

USAid Kenya, Equity Bank and Equity Group Foundation will launch a network of outpatient health facilities called Equity Afia. It will leverage Equity’s Equitel mobile phone platform to disseminate free, useful and tailored health information to expectant women and their partners to increase knowledge as well as address logistics barriers in preparing for safe deliveries and healthy child-rearing practices.

Kenya is among the front runner countries for an innovative model known as the Global Financing Facility.

The upward trend of health spending provides an opportune environment for the private sector to innovate and invest to deliver self-sustaining solutions to the core problems impeding MNCH outcomes.

Sustainable Development starts when life begins, therefore the time to act is now. Join us and help make a difference.

Dr Nicholas Muraguri is the Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health, Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidhat1) is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya. Follow “Every Woman Every Child” on twitter: @UNfEWEC.