Giving birth is a critical time for all mothers and their babies. In many of the poorest places in the world, where medical facilities are scarce, underequipped or mistrusted, pregnancy and delivery can be especially dangerous.
Discover how in Marsabit County, Kenya, we have been improving maternal services and successfully encouraging mums-to-be to come to the health centre for safer births.
Childbirth has long been a threat to the health of women living in extreme poverty in Kenya’s Marsabit County. While the quality of maternal health services has improved greatly, in 2019, the maternal mortality rate in Marsabit was still three times higher than Kenya’s average, with 1,127 deaths per 100,000 live births.
In 1971, the Illeret Health Centre was set up in Marsabit to serve families living locally, as well as nomadic Dashamite pastoralists. But until very recently, most mothers still opted for trusted traditional treatments and preferred to give birth at home, often in unsafe and unsuitable environments. In 2011, just three women chose to give birth at the centre.
The work we have been carrying out to connect staff at the Illeret Health Centre with local communities is successfully encouraging more pregnant mothers to come to the health centre for antenatal care and treatment, and even stay to give birth. In 2020, 210 mums-to-be visited the health centre each month for antenatal care and support, and 70 women gave birth there.
With the rates of maternal mortality so disproportionately high in Marsabit, we knew we had to radically change the way the health centre interacted with local mothers, and offer them better and safer conditions for their delivery.
We trained community health workers to visit local pregnant mothers at home with information on the best nutrients to eat and advise them to attend the centre’s Antenatal Clinic. At the health centre, we improved services and supplies of medicine, trained midwives and invested in building a new, specialist labour ward so that, when the time comes, mothers would be able to give birth in a comfortable, hygienic environment.
Mothers from the Dashamite community are not used to buildings like the health centre, and had previously found visiting intimidating. So, we also built four unique maternity waiting shelters nearby in the traditional nomadic style to make local women feel more comfortable. Now Dashamite mums-to-be who don’t live near the centre can stay in a familiar environment during their last few weeks of pregnancy until they are ready to give birth.