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KENYA: Losing a Life to Give a Life

The Healthcare System in Kenya

Looking at the trials of these two women sheds light on the disparities of maternal healthcare services in Kenya. For the last fifty years the government has been attempting to respond to these concerns.

There have been positive changes as well as pitfalls: In the 1960s, the government provided free health care for all. As the population grew in the 1980s, there was a need for primary health care to focus on family planning, health education, and promotion. In the 1990s, the population continued to grow and rural facilities sprung up across the country. With this expansion came the introduction of a user fee paid by individual clients of public hospitals. User fees paralyzed primary health care, because it meant the poor could not receive medical care due to lack of resources.

In 2003, the Minister for Health brilliantly dropped the cost of Level 1 and 2 deliveries as low as Ksh 30 (1 USD = Ksh 80). The significantly lowered cost was meant to encourage women to seek labor care in hospitals over traditional birth attendants.

A community health worker I met in a village cautioned women on the limitations of the system: “It is good to deliver in hospitals because there are experts,” she said. “However, sometimes the care is not good there. If you don’t have money, it is hard. Remember those women who were locked out after nonpayment?”

In an ideal world, health care would be robust and holistic. In healthy communities, there would be a dispensary headed by a nurse practitioner, with limited equipment. The next level of care would be a health center offering basic, emergency obstetric care. These would be staffed with nurses, clinical assistants, and doctors and would have a laboratory offering simple diagnostics. At the highest level of care, there would be a comprehensive and specialized medical team that offers both curative and preventative treatments.

In reality, healthcare services are largely concentrated in urban areas, which means the majority of Kenyans, including pregnant women, continue to have limited access to proper medical treatment.

The mother who lost her baby that busy night in the hospital lost her child because she had had to endure a long wait to reach a center that could provide the necessary level of care for her condition. Part of the problem is that healthcare professionals are drawn to work at the urban facilities.

The government recognizes the problem and has attempted to provide more nurses, midwives, and clinical officers to non-urban areas through an economic stimulus package; however, the challenge to curb the migration of nurses/midwives to Europe, America, and Australia has been huge.

A schoolmate of mine from nursing school recently explained to me, over Skype, her rationale for leaving Kenya for the US. “As long as there are greener pastures out there to explore, I will go,” she said. “After all, it is about the dollars and good living. I don’t want to die in poverty.”

Hope in the Form of a New Constitution

In comparison to other East African countries, Kenya has made great efforts to compensate and support health workers. Through reforms such as the National Health Policy Framework for 2011-2030 and the New Constitution, the restructuring of the salary and remunerations scheme has awarded health workers a fair deal, even though it is not exhaustive.

During the constitutional referendum, I was—along with a team of nurses and midwives—very involved in the grassroots civic education movement. We urged Kenyans to vote wisely and to remember the Bill of Rights that promised clean water, a quality environment, and the highest attainable standard of health care. This last item was paramount. Without a healthy nation no better agenda could be moved forward.

Gaining the support of the majority and drawing the attention of other African nations to Kenya, these constitutional reforms represent the height of achievement in democracy in the Horn of Africa. The people of Kenya displayed to the world an understanding of how to improve the well being of a nation.

The subject of women’s health is more prominent in the media, where it has reached an unprecedented level of debate and controversy. Two years later, the New Constitution remains a popular topic and the Kenyan government has since ratified many international treaties that address women’s health.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Both civil society and government are making major strides in addressing the issues with maternal health care. Currently, a consortium of non-governmental organizations is reaching out to women in the most remote areas by providing basic training to the community on how to deliver women safely to hospitals.

Walking across the slums, I meet amazing women who are using tools such as phones and simple charts to explain danger signs that can occur during pregnancy. These positive steps hold the promise of reducing maternal mortality in my community and beyond.

I believe that governments must treat maternal health as they do readying a defense force for war or a nuclear launch. No woman should die while giving life!

About This Story

This article was produced as part of a writing assignment for World Pulse's Voices of Our Future digital empowerment and citizen journalism training program.


ikirimat's picture

Advocacy for better conditions

Thanks for this striking situation of mothers that prevails daily in our communities. I have gone through such a condition which ended in the loss of my baby. I hope that one day, no mother , no child will die during birth.
Let's continue doing advocacy with governments, communities, leaders, men and women to address the challenges faced.

Thank you for the highlighting the issues of our women again.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Women will overcome!

Thank you Ikirimat!

I do understand our situation of maternal health is similar.I do hope the more we agitate for a better conditions many people will demand for the rights for highest attainable standard of health.
Let us keep on with the spirit.

Thank you for being a pillar of hope.


Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

richard23's picture


Poutine n'est pas son ennemi aussi. Ce que j'ai remarqué dernièrement que Poutine avait sauvé son extrémité arrière un couple de fois. Pendant les élections du 2 terme Poutine fait soutenu / dit de bonnes choses à propos de Obama.

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Mais vous êtes corrects présidents n'ont pas un luxe d'être des amis comme ça, à moins que les pays qu'ils servent sont des amis.

This is too important to leave to governments alone. Please join 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund and/or donate to UNFPA directly. Gender inequality is the moral challenge of the age. Quite frankly with the world's present power structure, if men could get pregnant there would be no "paternal mortality", no fistulas, no lack of access to family planning and safe abortion. Reproductive health would be at the top of the world's agenda!

Okeny-Lucia's picture

You are on spot!

Thank you dearest friends.I join in the campaign to bring this inhumanity to an end.

I believe we are coming to an end of letting politicians dictate to what we are entitled in health.

This is truly a noble cause.


Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Dear Lucia,
I love what you said, "I believe that governments must treat maternal health as they do readying a defense force for war or a nuclear launch." And I whole-heartedly agree! My hope is that one day governments will have peace rooms with their war rooms, and health rooms to track what is working in maternal health. My hope is that one day all women will have the resources to achieve an empowered birth.

Thank you for your story and your work.
Many blessings,

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Wow Maternal Health Rooms!

Dear Carrie,
I am greatful that you got the time to reply to my article.Maternal Health rooms is a must.We will not bow down.Every woman,every child counts and this mission we hope reaches to all governements.
Currently in my workplace we are doing small initiatives to assist midwives get capacity building in reaching out to women,and we hope small steps will count.
Thank you once again.
Many blessings too!

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Precious M's picture

Babies Need their Moms!

Dear Lucia,

Your article points to a very important issue. Adequate health care for mothers-to-be is not an issue to be ignored.

Kind Regards,

My pen speaks

tonettekelly's picture

Maternal Health Care

This was an important article.
If governments cannot provide adequate facilities it would be good if they could at least provide adequate training to a sufficient number of villagers so that they know what to do in challenging situations.

The western world should make this a priority.


Tonette Kelly

Wendyiscalm's picture


What you are doing is amazing. I am priniting your article out. When I go to Livingstone Zambia the end of August-September I will read it to some of the women who speak English. While the female situation is horrible in most of Livingstone, this article you wrote plants a seed. They are too scared of the ramifications of change but it will start a dialogue. So, I want you to know, as surely you already do, that you make a difference. Thank you so much

Wendy Stebbins

Wendy Stebbins
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Okeny-Lucia, let me express my deep respect and admiration for the work you do and goals you are achieving in your everyday life! For your struggle and hard work!it won't come back to you in monetary value but, for sure, God sees everybody and everything!
Every case like that is not just "one" of problems of such countries or a number in their statistics report, it is tragedy, suffering and emotional trauma, tears and sleepless nights for that person who has to learn to live with that all her life!while governments spend money for accumulating the weapons of massive destruction or putting money into their pockets!!!!
Every society needs people like you!!!!

Jacky Kowa's picture

County Government in kenya

So sad! That this continues to happen in every single deep rural areas of Kenya, every minute! We tag them unreached, underserved or just poor populations. In some of these places, even NGO's are scared of putting up a facility because of the distance, mobile clinics works but are not consistent.

Madam Lucia, your story made me think how crucial our county government focus, might actually work. County problems will be listened to and dealt with at the county level. A boost to the county developments in Kenya. I support and believe in this.

I pray for my mama land.

Kindest Regards,

Communication for behaviour change


olivia hosea mchome's picture

Thank you

I dont have a child yetb but you have opend my eyes..towards prayers for all those in labor ward.

You doing a wonderfull job.

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