Expectant women experience painful pangs of night curfew

Nasarin Naboru attends to an expectant woman at her house in Ilng’arua, Baringo South Sub-county. [Harun Wathari Standard]

Unable to reach a health centre in the middle of the dusk to dawn curfew, Catherine Twili, from Mutei village in Mbooni, delivered her baby alone at home.

She did not wake up the following day. She was found dead, the newborn next to her.

The baby survived.  

“The woman delivered alone. She had no one to help her. We found her dead on Saturday morning,” said area assistant chief, Mathias Mukithya.

Other deaths have been reported in Kilungu and Kibwezi sub-county hospitals due to late arrival after nights of frustrations and agony.

Christine Muindi, a nurse and a coordinator on maternal health in the county, in an interview, confirmed four deaths, adding that the trend was worrying.

“In 2019, we had only 15 cases. But now in a period of one week, we have four cases. These are cases that have been reported. There might be others,” said Ms Muindi.

Serious complications

With the ongoing curfew, a number of expectant mothers are dying in homes. Many are losing their babies.

In Kakamega, doctors at the Kakamega County General Hospital had to operate on a mother to save her life.

It took the intervention of the chairman of Community Health Volunteers in Kakamega Kevin Mpapale to have the woman rushed to hospital.

“One of our volunteers called me at around 2am saying the woman was about to give birth but had serious complications. I offered them my car to rush her to the hospital because the standby county ambulance was not immediately available,” said Mpapale.

After examinations at the hospital, doctors had bad news for the woman. The twins inside her were dead, and her life too was in danger.

“The twin babies had long died inside the womb and the doctors were forced to operate on the mother to save her life.”

According to Mpapale, community health volunteers are reluctant to attend to women at night due to the curfew.

“Women are suffering more from ripple effects of coronavirus and things could get worse,” he said.

The curfew has presented a challenge for expectant mothers as they struggle to access emergency care.

A number of expectant mothers in rural areas are delivering at home while others are left at the mercy of birth attendants who are ill-equipped to handle emergency situations.

With boda boda operators fearing to venture outside during the 7pm-5am curfew, expectant mothers have been walking long distances to access health care. 

Esther Kaseiya, 18, walked three kilometres after failing to get means of transport to a health facility on April 2.

The young mother from Longewam village in Baringo South Sub-county braved spasms on labour pains to reach Ilng’arua health centre to deliver her first born.

Accompanied by her aged mother, Esther Kaseiya, she decided to walk through rocky hills to Ilng’arua, taking a herbal concoction along the way to ease the pain.

“Being a first time mother, I did not know what to do after developing labour pains. Walking to the hospital was so tiresome, I thought I would deliver along the way. The pain was too much,” she said.

After about four hours, she arrived at the facility, only to find it closed.

“I had no more strength left. I lay on the floor praying for safe delivery,” she recalls.

A guard walked three kilometres to look for Elena Kachike, a former traditional birth attendant to help Kaseiya.

Kachike volunteered to help Kasaiya successfully deliver a bouncing baby boy at around 10pm.

“I felt sorry for the young mother who looked so tired and lacked strength as she laboured at the facility. I decided to help her deliver,” said the birth attendant.

Kaseiya was lucky.

Not so for Lydia Mueni, a mother of seven from Makueni County who had a stillbirth after enduring hours of labour pains.

Her husband, Mati Nyamai, 50, said that on that particular night his wife developed labour pains, police had camped in the adjacent market and no one could dare walk outside.

“The pains started at around 11pm. We tried to reach several boda boda operators to take her to Kibwezi Sub-county hospital. They all refused to ride us to hospital past curfew hours,” said Nyamai.

He carried his wife all the way to the hospital, all along hoping that all would be well.

“When we went to the hospital, my wife was bleeding. It was a matter of saving the life of the mother since we were informed the baby had died in the womb,” he recounted.

In Baringo, county health executive Mary Panga said all hospitals are fully functional irrespective of curfew and Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is true most locals use motorcycles to seek medical care, and to avert maternal complications, we have ambulances to ferry expectant mothers to hospitals,” she said.

In Bungoma West, Naomi Njeri Kisache, 23, cuddled her baby boy.

Kisache gave birth alone on Wednesday at about 4am at her Mayekwe village home in Lwandanyi.

Her mother, Mary Namachanja, watched helplessly.

No option

“In normal circumstances, a boda boda rider would be at hand to rush me to the hospital but with the dusk-to-dawn curfew there was no other option,” said Kisache.

Her husband, Allan Sambu, who stays in Nandi was away from home at the time.

Lwandenyi dispensary, which is located three kilometres away from Kisache’s home, does not operate after 6pm.

“I went to the hospital the following day just to be sure about the health of my baby and myself,” said Kisache.

Esther Nanjala, a single mother from the same village, gave birth some minutes to 3am with the help of Alice Juma, a midwife.

These tales of woe are shared by many other expectant women across the country. Many have found themselves between a rock and a hard place in the wake of the ongoing dusk-to-dawn curfew.

According to research by Kenya Demographic and Health Survey and the UN, at least 375 women die for every 100,000 who give birth.

Thirty one infants die for every 1,000 born.

[Stephen Nzioka, Mercy Kahenda, John Shilitsa and Sali Micah]