Two women from two different countries sit opposite each other at the Mandera County Referral Hospital. Both came in with the same condition but had different outcomes.
Habiba Salah travelled 100 kilometres to the Kenya-Somalia border hospital to deliver her eighth child, Musaab Salah who is just a few days old. Doctors say she had never attended a single antenatal clinic and only thought to come to the hospital when both her life and that of her baby were in danger. Mandera County Health Executive Ahmed Sheikh is not surprised by this.
“We have no medical history, we only get the complications delivered to our doorsteps,” said Sheikh.
Musaab is tiny and barely visible underneath the light shawl her mother has covered him in. This, Sheikh says, could be due to malnutrition the mother may have suffered during pregnancy. She may have had anaemia or had a poor diet, we know nothing about her pregnancy which has a great impact on the health of the baby,” he says. The other woman, Halima Ibrahim from Suftu in Ethiopia, crossed the border in the hope of delivering her 12th child safely. Unfortunately her daughter did not make it.
“I do not know whether it was a boy or a girl” she tells the nurse when responding to what the gender of the baby was. She started bleeding before delivery and crossed the border in that condition. The Ethiopia-Kenya border in Mandera is marked by a river which takes about five minutes to cross and when she arrived the doctors decided to do an emergency caesarian section to save her life. “We have to ensure that she is advised on taking up some form of family planning,” said Sheikh.
The two women do not know their age and are among the many who travel tens kilometres to seek treatment at the referral hospital, the county cannot turn them away. “Some arrive at the border in the middle of the night and when it is opened in the morning their condition has deteriorated or they have lost their babies, they cannot be turned away” he said.
One who came in this condition is 18-year-old Shamsa Hassan from Garbahare in Somalia. She arrived in a coma and suffered from cerebritis — inflammation of the brain.
After spending a month in the hospital she, like many of the women from the region, was discharged without paying hospital fees. “There is not much we can do, we have to serve non-residents on humanitarian grounds which has hugely impacted on our resources,” said the CEC.