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Midwife in Manyatta: ‘Clinic’ that brings life to Turkana

By Joan Letting | Sep 16th 2014 | 4 min read
By Joan Letting | September 16th 2014

One could easily confuse Jacinta Atiir's compound for an antenatal and postnatal clinic due to the expectant mothers waiting for their turn to see the famous 'doctor' every morning.

Atiir is an untrained traditional birth attendant who carries out her trade at Chokchok village, Turkana Central which is 30 kilometres from Lodwar town.

Dressed in traditional regalia, Atiir has her hands full every day, handlinf an endless stream of expectant mothers and those with young infants who require her to play the role of both midwife and doctor.

Though she has never been trained in midwifery or safe motherhood, Atiir has been doing this work for the past six years and a visit to her 'clinic' proves to be a real eye opener.

"On average monthly, I attend to 15 expectant mothers who come from six different villages of the vast Turkana Central constituency. I do not charge and it is up to the women to determine whatever token they want to give me," she said.


Atiir says beyond just offering midwifery services she also provides prenatal and antenatal care to the women especially new mothers who do not know what to expect.

She says pregnant women prefer coming to her manyatta since she gives special attention to each one and ensures that they deliver safely and for free.

Atiir says many children in the village, aged six-years and below were born in her manyatta and seeing them grow healthy and strong fills her with much joy.

"When I first started, I did not have so many women seeking my help but over time, the numbers increased and while I do not have the exact numbers, I believe I have helped midwife not less than 4,000 children in my period of service to the community," she said.

During delivery, Atiir says she uses traditional sheep oil to massage the pregnant woman's belly, as the woman lies flat on a mat, then she uses a sharp knife to cut the umbilical cord when the baby has been born.

When The Standard visited Atiir's 'clinic', we found 25-year-old Paulina Ngipeyok, a mother of three, who was among the many pregnant women waiting to see the traditional birth attendant for antenatal care.

Ngipeyok, who was visibly in pain, said she had walked seven kilometres from her home in Nangomo village just to get the help she needs from Atiir.

She says there is a hospital in Lodwar but it is too far and by the time labour pains set in there is no time to walk several kilometres to the Level Five hospital.

"This is the fourth delivery I will be doing in this compound. I feel comfortable here, she handles us in a motherly way and I would still come here again," Ngipeyok says before she is taken into the manyatta where she is examined by the traditional birth attendant who massages her stomach.

After three hours, Ngipeyok gives birth to a a bouncing baby who she calls Nasepon.

Akuj Angelei, who has brought her infant for treatment says Atiir has become their saviour in maternity issues and they run to her every time they either have an issue with their pregnancy, are about to deliver or have a problem with their infants.

"We rely on Attir to help us and she finds a way to solve our problems. We hear there are very important vaccinations like diphtheria, polio and tetanus that are usually administered in the hospitals, but she solves our problems here," Angelei said.


Though committed to her work, Atiir poses a danger to the same community she serves given that she uses un-sterilised tools to serve the mothers thus exposing them to various infections.

"I always use the same razor for the different women," she says, oblivious to the dangers of transmitting diseases to those she has dedicated her life to help.

Speaking to The Standard, Health County Executive Jane Ajele, said she is aware of the problem faced by the expectant mothers of Chokchok.

"It is unfortunate that the people of Chokchok have been without a dispensary since independence. The county government is however, working to address this issue and will soon put up a modern facility in the area to serve residents of the six highly affected villages," she said.

Governor Josphat Nanok has said that his government has given the health sector the lion's share of this year's financial budget.

He said Sh2.1 bilion has been set aside to improve operations and infrastructure in the sector in order to curb the county's increased mortality rates.

"We want to make sure that such cases are reduced or eliminated in our county. We are working on a robust health programme that will ensure that every Turkana resident has easy access to professional health services," the governor said.

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