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Six leading causes of maternal mortality in Kenya


The rate of death among mothers during pregnancy, delivery and after childbirth has remained at a steady 488 deaths per 100,000 births in Kenya, according to the 2013 State of the World Population report.

There are different causes of maternal death with some stemming from maternal health illiteracy by expectant mothers.  Poor infrastructure, ill equipped medical centres and cultural practices play a leading role in maternal deaths. A significant amount of these deaths can be prevented by adequate prenatal care, qualified health workers during delivery and proper post-natal care.

Here are some of the common causes of maternal deaths:

Lack of proper health care or negligence

Good health care helps in detecting complications related to pregnancy and childbirth in a timely manner. Many women, particularly those in the rural areas, fail to go for regular check-ups while those who try have to deal with long distances to health centres. These facilities sometimes lack the necessary equipment to monitor the health of mother and baby. As a result, getting timely treatment in the face of complications is nearly impossible leading to the death of the mother and sometimes the baby.

They are sometimes forced to make do with health workers i.e. nurses or midwives, who lack adequate training in detecting, preventing and/or treating medical conditions that are related to pregnancy and childbirth. Other times, the health workers are negligent therefore overlooking/ignoring care practices that end up killing the mothers.


Commonly known as pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, hypertension is commonly referred to as a silent killer. In expectant mothers it manifests itself at about 20 weeks. Its symptoms include high blood pressure, swollen hands and feet as well as protein in urine. Proper medical care can manage the condition during pregnancy and lead to safe delivery of the baby. This condition can also be found in mothers after childbirth and requires treatment to prevent further complications and even death.

Severe bleeding

Heavy bleeding, after childbirth, that goes unattended is another cause of maternal deaths. This usually comes about when the uterus fails to contract. Other causes could be lengthy labour, vaginal tears, large baby or anaemia, among others. The presence of a well-skilled health care provider during delivery can help to stop the bleeding and thus, save the mother’s life. If the bleeding is too much, a proper facility can perform or recommend a blood transfusion.


Postpartum infections or infections after childbirth are commonly brought about when a mother delivers in unhygienic conditions. This is common in areas where the mother fails to reach the health facility in time to deliver forcing her to deliver at home, in the shamba or in extreme circumstances on the road.

Poor hygiene after normal and caesarean deliveries can also lead to infections which in turn can lead to maternal death. Mothers who have regular check-ups postpartum can detect infections early and get the necessary treatment. Proper personal hygiene after childbirth can help prevent the occurrence of infections and in turn save the mother’s life.

Unsafe abortion

Unplanned pregnancies often lead women to seek abortions. In Kenya, many women often end up going to backstreet clinics to get an abortion. These clinics are often run by quacks who perform unsafe procedures which endanger the mother and at times even leads to death. The spaces are frequently not up to standard as regards sanitation. Complications that arise when an abortion is done such as infection, organ failure, high fever and shock can cause maternal death.

Blood clots

Blood clots commonly form in deep veins particularly those located in the legs. These clots are dangerous if the clot breaks off and get into the bloodstream. A history of clots in the family, age (over 35), obesity, carrying multiple babies, use of fertility treatments, dehydration and having a caesarean section are some of the causes of blood clots in expectant mothers.

To treat these clots, expectant mothers are given an injection which they should keep getting throughout their pregnancy. The injection is safe for the unborn child. After childbirth, these mothers are required to continue getting these injections to prevent another occurrence of the clot. At home, patients need to exercise often and wear compression stockings which are designed to help with the flow of blood in their legs.

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