The number of mothers dying in childbirth doubled to 857 in the first half of this year, driven by prolonged doctors and nurses’ strikes that have left most without medical attention during critical hours of delivery.
A confidential Ministry of Health report derived from the District Health Information Systems says the figure had jumped from 413 deaths registered during a similar period last year, making Kenya one of the worst places for childbirth.
The ministry, however, only captures 10 per cent of such deaths as many others go unrecorded, especially since more than 50 per cent of the public health facilities remain closed as the nationwide nurses’ strike - in its 135th day -- continues.
“Facilities are not working and the data could only be for those who die in facilities,” said the Head of Maternal and Reproductive Health Unit at the ministry, Dr Joel Gondi. “I do not have the data to interrogate further but first we need to look at the authenticity of the source, where the deaths are recorded and look at the contributing factors. The Director of Medical Services (Dr Jackson Kioko) is better placed to respond,” he said.
Marsabit, Migori, Mandera, Wajir, Isiolo, Kwale and Lamu counties are among the top 15 regions with the highest maternal death records, accounting for about 50 per cent of all maternal deaths in the country, according to United Nations.
Medical Superintendent at Moyale Sub-County Referral Hospital in Marsabit Mohamed Ebrahim said the facility has not been delivering mothers for the longest time since the nurses strike began in June.
“The situation is terrible, we cannot do anything in this regard without the nurses,” said Dr Ebrahim. Data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) show that Kenya’s maternal deaths per 100,000 live births stood at 510 in 2015 down from 605 in 2010.
The trend is, however, taking a sharp reversal with the on-and-off health workers’ strike reversing the gains from interventions such as the Sh3.4 billion free maternity services that the Jubilee government launched in 2013.
Kenya National Union of Nurses secretary-general Seth Panyako says the situation is worsening as nurses manage 99 per cent of the child-bearing process from conception to post-delivery.
Official data also shows that 85 per cent of Kenyan mothers seek services from health dispensaries that are managed by nurses.
“We expect more maternal deaths as nurses are away,” said Dr Panyako.
“Antenatal clinics are managed by nurses and only a nurse would be able to monitor and detect a mother’s underlying condition before referring them to a doctor. High blood pressure and low blood levels are the most common underlying conditions for maternal death.”