In 1994, governments, advocates, health organizations, women’s and youth activists gathered in Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). There, women’s reproductive health and rights took center stage in national and global development efforts. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ICPD and a renewed emphasis on reproductive health, women’s empowerment and equality will be discussed later this year in Nairobi as it pertains to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
At the recent High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Secretary General António Guterres said that there needs to be a ratcheting up of empowerment and gender equality in order to reach the 17 sustainable development goals. And, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed said, ” A recent report found that no country is on track to fully achieve Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality by 2030. And despite some important progress, we are far short of attaining the elusive “gender balance” goal in leadership established in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.
I have visited enough traditional family huts and homes in rural Africa to know that light and power are precious commodities. When the last bit of sun streams through the windows and doors in the evenings, the only recourse for light again is when the sun shines brightly in the morning. That is a long time to read, write, cook, and get ready for the next day by mere firelight. When not fixed on an electrical grid (which aren’t very reliable themselves), the only real, viable opportunity for light and energy is through solar power.
A newly released short film by BioLite Run Home shows how powerful their products are to light households in the absence of electricity. In fact, BioLite is on a mission to “bring energy everywhere”. In the film, BioLite features professional Kenyan marathon runner and mother Jane Kibii. Through her race earnings, Kibii has earned enough money to purchase a family home. Unfortunately, the home she built for her parents is far from the electrical grid.
The Kenyan Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board has stopped the NGO Marie Stopes International from performing abortions in Kenya. Marie Stopes is a global organisation that provides contraception and safe abortion to women in urban and rural communities. Abortion is illegal in Kenya, unless a trained medical professional judges that there’s a need for emergency treatment, or that a woman’s life or health is in danger.
The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner spoke to Michael Mutua about the Marie Stopes ban and its implications.
How did the ban come about?
According to the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, they banned abortion services provided by Marie Stopes following complaints from the general public. The public claimed the organisation was running pro-choice media campaigns. These adverts specifically sought to provide women with a solution when faced with crisis pregnancies.
The adverts were also criticised by the Kenya Film Classification Board, which ordered Marie Stopes to pull them down for allegedly promoting abortion.
Sasha is 22-years-old. She was married off when she was just nine and by the time she was 11, she was pregnant with her first child, and unprepared for childbirth.
So when labor came, in the middle of the night – in her geographically isolated village in rural Kenya – she was unaware of the painful fate awaiting her.
During childbirth, the baby’s head was too big to fit through Sasha’s pelvis, causing the baby to get stuck in her birthing canal. Traditional birth attendants tried their best to help Sasha but they were not skilled enough to handle the complications. She needed surgery, and quickly. But because she could not access emergency obstetric services, she spent the next six days trying to push out the baby that was stuck inside of her.
In the end, Sasha delivered a dead, rotten baby in macerated form. She was not only in grief of her lost child, but was also traumatized by her experience which left her with profound injuries and a double obstetric vaginal fistula.
About 21 pregnant women die every day in Kenya due to complications from childbirth. That’s equivalent to two 10-seater commuter micro minibuses, known as matatus, crashing every day with the loss of all the passengers on board.
Pregnant women in Kenya die because they either do not receive appropriate care during pregnancy or are unable to deliver with the help of skilled health attendants.
Mother’s milk has an enormous impact on child survival. While in Kenya it has improved over the past decade, the number of children who die before five years remains significant. The rate has decreased from 115 per 1000 live births in 2003 to 52 in 2014.
Neighbors Rwanda (2008), Tanzania (2012) and Uganda (2011) have recorded 50, 66 and 65 deaths per 1,000 live births for children below five years, respectively.
The main causes of childhood deaths are infections, preterm births and lack of sufficient oxygen, or asphyxia.
Breastfeeding infants on breast milk alone until they are six months old has been shown to reduce child mortality. When mothers can’t provide their own milk, the next best alternative is donor milk from other women. Access to “human milk banks” gives vulnerable infants, without access to their mother’s own milk, a healthy start to life.
The milk bank concept was initiated in Vienna in 1909 and was preceded by a century old practice of wet nursing – a mother breastfeeding another mother’s child.
Since then, over 500 human milk banks have been established in more than 37 countries globally in developed and developing countries. The pioneer countries include Brazil, South Africa, India, Canada, Japan and France.
There’s a growing global recognition of proper infant nutrition in the child’s first 1000 days of life. This can be monitored through encouraging proper nutrition during pregnancy and the first two years of life for optimal growth, health and survival.
Poor breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices are some of the common causes of malnutrition in the first two years of life. Breastfeeding confers both short-term and long-term benefits to the child like reducing the risk of infections and diseases like asthma, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Mothers who breastfeed also lower their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, weak bones, obesity and heart diseases.
For countries to reap the benefits of breastfeeding they need to achieve a baby friendly status. Kenya began promoting the baby friendly hospital initiative approach in 2002. It ensures that health facilities where mothers give birth encourage immediate initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Unfortunately, this programme was only accessible to women who delivered in the health facilities, leaving out those who give birth at home.
We conducted a two year study involving 800 pregnant women and their respective children in a rural area in Kenya. The study involved testing feasibility and potential effectiveness of the baby friendly community initiative (BFCI), whereby women in the intervention arm were given home-based counselling on optimal breastfeeding alongside health facility based counselling. These mother-child pairs were followed until the child was at least six months.
Globally, there’s a general decline in the number of women who die from pregnancy or childbirth complications. However in Kenya, it remains high at 488
deaths per 100,000 live births. Maternal mortality is a health indicator of the wide gaps
between rich and poor, urban and rural areas within countries.
For decades, there has been consistent chatter, research, and hope for a potential malaria vaccine. Now, all three are finally coming to fruition to roll out the world’s first clinical malaria vaccine trials. The World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) announced today that Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been chosen for the WHO-coordinated pilot implementation program that will make the world’s first malaria vaccine … Continue reading Three African Countries Chosen for First Malaria Vaccine Trials
Breastfeeding has both short-term and long-term nutritional benefits for children. Nutrition is central to sustainable development. Good nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life is critical for child growth, well being and survival, and future productivity.
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for children until they are six months old and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feedings until children are two, for optimal growth and development.
What Kenya did right
Kenya has seen a remarkable growth in exclusive breastfeeding for children under six months old. In 2003 only 13% of mothers were breastfeeding exclusively. This year, according to the National Demographic and Health Survey, 61% of mothers of children aged less than six months were breastfeeding exclusively.
As of 2014 only 23% of Kenyans have access to electricity according to the World Bank. That number has remained steady since 2005. Now, a reported two million Kenyans will gain access to renewable energy through portable home solar kits donated by renewable energy company, US-based SkyPower. The home kits will include LED bulbs, a fan, USB charging capabilities and a radio that will be powered and recharged by the sun.
Earlier this week we wrote that Duke University researchers discovered that spinal anesthesia (epidurals) can be given to women during C-sections in low-resource settings in Ghana. Now, there is even more good news regarding women in Africa who are in need of emergency C-sections during high-risk deliveries.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), Kenya’s AIC Kijabe Hospital, a 260-bed complex, composed of a 230-bed main hospital, a 30-bed orthopedic and rehabilitation children’s hospital, and the Kenya-based Center for Public Health and Development recently received a $2.6 million grant from the GE Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative to improve surgical safety by advancing anesthesia and obstetrics surgery team training and coordination.
The grant will help women who live in remote Western Kenya.
Eight million children under the age of five die every year from preventable diseases. Of those eight million deaths, 2.8 million are neonates according to the World Health Organization. Key interventions like Kangaroo Mother Care, pre-and postnatal care, deliveries in a hospital setting with trained health workers, and exclusive breastfeeding are some proven ways to keep more babies alive. Two leading researchers, Dr. Joanne Katz, Professor and Associate Chair … Continue reading New Global Projects Measure Newborn Health Interventions #EveryNewborn
Last week, I travelled from the capital city of Nairobi, Kenya, to Turkana County which is in the northern part of the country. Turkana is a largely pastoralist community with a population of 855,000 people. The county faces major problems, chief among them recurring droughts which has for years crippled the county’s economic development.
The lack of adequate rainfall continues to be a source of conflict for Turkana and her neighbours –the Pokot community, as well as the neighbouring countries of Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia as they fight for the scarce resources of water and grazing pasture. With the main economic activity being livestock farming, cattle raids are a frequent occurrence in Turkana, which is classified as a High Hazard Probability (HHP) of food, conflict and drought.