Kenya has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, with approximately 510 women losing their lives out of every 100,000 live births. In Turkana County, where 87 percent of the population lives in poverty and access to healthcare is poor, women face a steep challenge reaching the healthcare professionals and facilities that can support them during their pregnancies. This challenge emerges from a lack of physical infrastructure, as well as cultural beliefs that eschew modern medicine in favour of traditional methods.
To address these issues, UNOPS is supporting the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to improve access to healthcare in Turkana, Garissa, Homabay, Kakamega, and Nairobi Counties. Though a $12 million project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), 57 health centres have been rehabilitated and upgraded with green energy technology.
“We have to deliver the baby when the baby wants to come even if it is dark with no power […]there has been cases that the birth attendant here had to hold a torch in her mouth while she delivers the baby,” Reuben, a support personnel in Kangatosa health center tells us.
Additionally, over 14,000 Community Health Volunteers and health workers have been provided with up to 500 days of training. More than 1.6 million people stand to benefit from these improvements. The activities undertaken by UNOPS and UNICEF have made it easier for women in Turkana to access quality healthcare at facilities close to them, while also making it possible for the health services to reach them in their homes, through the trained volunteers and health workers.
Under the shade of a tree in the remote village of Kangatosa, next to the village’s only health centre, women gather to see health workers. Some are in different stages of pregnancy. Others have small children. Many women describe how they had walked for hours to make it here. (Photo by UNOPS)
In Turkana, the impact of the project on the County’s population is already evident. Kangatosa Health Centre is already dealing with a greater number of patients, many of whom are pregnant women seeking pre-natal care. Most of the women decided to go to the centre after being approached by Community Health Volunteers who informed them on the benefits of seeking support from qualified professionals during their pregnancies.
Crucially, the women visiting the centre have the support of their husbands and partners, as they too come to appreciate the importance of seeking care from medical centres. By training both men and women as Community Health Volunteers, the project has ensured that the social stigma surrounding modern medicine is addressed from all perspectives. As the women in Turkana continue to seek the help of professional health workers, they can now be sure that they will have the support of the men in their communities.