Through To 2: Helping mums feel at home when giving birth

Community health workers are successfully encouraging local and pastoralist mums to trust the maternal services at the Illeret Health Centre in Marsabit County, Kenya. Photo: Jennifer Nolan
Community health workers are successfully encouraging local and pastoralist mums to trust the maternal services at the Illeret Health Centre in Marsabit County, Kenya. Photo: Jennifer Nolan

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.

Reducing the risk of birth in Marsabit County

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.   

Meeting mothers with advocacy and outreach

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.

Concern Nurse Beatrice fills detail in the records book at an outreach centre in Kenya. Photo: Jennifer Nolan
Concern being here is very important. Without Concern, so many things wouldn’t happen. For example, the deployment of staff, the stocking of the maternity wards, the beds and even the mattresses. The presence of Concern here is a great help.
Beatrice Eyomo - Nurse in Charge at Illeret Health Centre

Building trust with traditional architecture

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.

These new 'maternity waiting shelters' at the Illeret Health Centre are similar to the nomadic homes that local Dashamite families live in, and make visiting mums feel more at home. Photo: Jennifer Nolan
These new 'maternity waiting shelters' at the Illeret Health Centre are similar to the nomadic homes that local Dashamite families live in, and make visiting mums feel more at home. Photo: Jennifer Nolan

Success means the next generation are born healthy

The maternal waiting huts and hard work of outreach staff have made pregnant mums feel more comfortable and confident in coming to the Illeret Health Centre for antenatal check-ups, receiving treatments and even giving birth. The increase in mothers visiting the centre is brilliant to see.

This success will have a huge impact on the community in Illeret. As the maternal mortality rate improves and more babies are born healthy, the next generation of children are more likely to survive ‘Through to 2’.

Through to 2

Babies are at their most vulnerable during the day of their birth and their first week of life. With your support, you can help provide healthcare and support to mums during labour and postnatal care to babies at this important time.
 

15-month-old Zainab. Photo: Khaula Jamil / Pakistan (2020)

Donate today

  • £5 a month for a year could help provide enough life-saving therapeutic food to treat two malnourished children

  • £9 a month for a year could help treat 87 acutely malnourished mums with therapeutic food.

  • £18 a month for a year could provide 23 safe birth kits helping to keep mums and babies free from infection.

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