About three weeks ago, a young woman gave birth at Uhuru Park, a recreation ground in the middle of Nairobi, Kenya’s commercial and administrative capital city. Rebecca Atieno, 20, had immigrated to the city from her Kisumu County rural home, the way millions of other village youngsters do after high school to look for gainful employment.
By the time the baby came, poor Rebecca was homeless. She had not gained enough from her employment to afford decent shelter and had been pushed out of her rundown lodging, for which she had been paying a daily fee of Sh50, because she had just lost her job and could not pay.
The job, from which she had been dismissed for being too slow, we were told, was paying her Sh200 a day. And on the material day, her first after getting fired and evicted, Rebecca walked into the park, since that was the only homely place she could think of, to rest and probably think of how to move on. Reports say she got into labour then “broke her waters”. Some long minutes later, she delivered a baby-girl, alone, unaided.
Only women who have been in labour and given birth, naturally, can appreciate the pain this girl went through. The anxiety Rebecca experienced between the time her water broke and when the little girl finally disengaged from her must have been out of this world noting, especially, that this was her first child. The feeling of hopelessness the pregnant, jobless and homeless Rebecca had been wallowing in must have been exacerbated by this seeming surprise arrival of labour. A few minutes earlier, she had had to give up her most precious earthly possession, her mobile phone, to a toilet minder for her to be allowed to answer a call of nature. She did not have Sh10 the toilet managers at the public park charged for a call of nature!
After successfully bringing forth the child, Rebecca was picked up by staff of the St John Ambulance and taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, thanks to a good male well-wisher who noticed her plight, gave her some food and water and raised the alarm.
Rebecca’s story brought to the fore the predicament that befalls thousands, if not millions, of Kenyan poor women countrywide any time they get into the family way. Access to the much needed healthcare is not always guaranteed and it gets harder to come by when the pregnant woman gets unexpected labour pain.
Rebecca was lucky as many women do not live to tell their experiences. But had she known about the NHIF Linda Mama programme, she could have been spared the indignity of delivering in a public park in the middle of Nairobi. The Government-funded programme enables one to not only deliver safely in hospital, but is also free.
Some of the benefits the programme accrues to its subscribers are at least four ante-natal visits, in which one will access disease preventive services such as tetanus toxoid immunisation, deworming and folic acid supplements, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/Aids for infected women, monitoring of fetal and maternal well-being, antenatal profiling, outpatient services for treatment of pregnancy-related medical conditions as well as in-patient treatment of pregnancy-related medical conditions in National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) accredited hospitals.
The aim of the programme is to increase access to skilled birth attendants, thereby reducing maternal and infant mortality. The beneficiaries neither pay for the cover nor for services at the accredited facilities. Other than the ante-natal care, information available at NHIF, and which, unfortunately, does not seem to have reached Rebecca, indicate that beneficiaries are also entitled to full expert care 48 hours after birth for mother, newborn and neonatal care, including pre-term births; one to two weeks after birth screening of cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infections, and tuberculosis; four to six weeks family planning services for mother; immunisation as per Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunisation (KEPI) schedule and vitamin A supplements. The mothers also get to access child welfare clinics in NHIF-accredited hospitals.
The programme is open to all women, and one can register through the mobile phone by simply dialing *263#. So far 1,215,873 women have registered for the programme, and NHIF has paid out more than Sh3.3 billion to healthcare providers for the services since 2017 when it took over Linda Mama.
Why don’t we, for instance, get all the County Woman Representatives to mobilise their female voters to register? Grassroots NGOs could also take that challenge and have as many women in their catchment areas enlist for this life saving programme.
There could be, and surely is, a lot going wrong in our country that makes Rebecca and a million others deliver in public places. But on maternal healthcare, Rebecca is a case of my people perishing for lack of knowledge.
Mr Muriuki is a strategic communications [email protected]
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