How UN, business ties are firming up reproductive health in Kenya


United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) Representative for Kenya Dr Ademola Olajide speaking to the press at Pumwani Maternity Hospital on August 25, 2020. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG

The Covid-19 restrictions have negatively affected access to essential reproductive health services, including antenatal care and family planning, in Kenya.

Dr Ademola Olajide, United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Representative for Kenya, speaks to the Business Daily about how quick adaptation to new ways of delivering services is helping women and girls cope with the disruptions and the lessons Kenya can pick from the pandemic to improve its health care.

What is UNFPA doing to help Kenya respond and ensure women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs are met?

UNFPA provides support to the government in ensuring the integration of sexual and reproductive health services within the national Covid-19 response.

Some of this support includes the procurement of family planning commodities to safeguard access and availability of supplies at health facilities, capacity building of healthcare workers on response to Covid-19, and specifically on provision of key sexual and reproductive health services, as well as the provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs) to health care workers in the reproductive and maternal health service areas.

UNFPA provided over 40,000 PPEs for health workers; 200,000 family planning commodities and more than 14,000 dignity kits to vulnerable women, and girls.

UNFPA has also partnered with organisations such as Amref and the Kenya Red Cross Society to support referral systems for obstetric emergencies especially during the lockdown.

What other partnerships do you have with the private sector?

As a country office, we have worked with partners in the private sector, including corporate foundations, multinational corporations, and local business associations who provide not only financial resources but also knowledge, innovation, and networks that help propel our work forward.

We have, for example, partnered with the Phillips Foundation and Amref International University (AMIU) to train midwives on basic obstetric ultrasound screening skills.

Through the programme, the healthcare workers are provided with the Lumify probe, a portable ultrasound machine from Philips, which they can use to provide ANC ultrasound screening services at an affordable fee.

Through the last mile assurance programme, UNFPA supports a partnership between the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) and Coca-Cola Beverage Africa to enhance the delivery of sexual and reproductive health commodities to all parts of the country.

This partnership leverages Coca Cola’s expertise in supply chain management to deliver reproductive health commodities where they are needed most.

Does the organisation support projects that ensure women’s economic empowerment?

UNFPA Kenya office has supported women's economic empowerment as a means of tackling poverty and gender inequality that drives harmful practices against women and girls within communities.

We have partnered with the Anti-FGM Board, Ushanga Kenya Initiative and EcoBank to co-launch the Johari Beads Initiative which seeks to support commercialised beadwork amongst women from pastoralist communities.

The goal of the project is to empower women financially so that they can become agents of change within their communities in the push to abandon harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage.

UNFPA’s partnership with Meiji Holdings will also provide soap production, marketing and entrepreneurship training to young women within the Kibera informal settlement who are at risk of gender-based violence.

Through this training, the women will be able to learn an income-generating skill that can help them establish agency and provide them with the confidence and financial ability to protect themselves against violence.

It is about three years since your appointment to be the UNFPA representative for Kenya. What do you consider some of your key achievements so far?

It has indeed been a rewarding three years during which we designed and launched UNFPA Kenya’s 9th Programme Cycle, aligned with the country’s development priorities as spelt out in Kenya’s Vision 2030 and the Big Four Agenda.

We have been able to bring focus to critical issues that adolescents and youth face, and to contribute in generating national data like the 2019 census.

The ICPD25 Nairobi Summit held in 2019, was a watershed moment for UNFPA both globally and at a national level. Kenya made 17 commitments whose implementation is strengthening the promise of fulfilling the ICPD Programme of Action endorsed 26 years ago in Cairo.

The greatest impetus for us was when the President directed that Kenya will end FGM by 2022. We are currently engaged in several initiatives aimed at supporting this directive and ensuring zero cases of FGM in the country by the set deadline.

What lessons can Kenya pick from the Covid-19 pandemic to improve the health system?

The health sector needs to strengthen emergency preparedness and response capacities. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed gaps in institutional and human resource capacities for providing services during emergencies that reach pandemic levels.

Most health care institutions lacked equipment like ICU beds and isolation facilities, as well as protective supplies and equipment for health workers. Protocols for provision of essential services had to be developed during the pandemic.

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