Ann Nyawira Mbuthia and her little baby under the recently launched Linda Mama Initiative at Kimbimbi Hospital. [Munene Kamau, Standard]

The provision of free delivery services now hangs in the balance, after the Ministry of Health slashed budgetary allocation by half.

Free deliveries are currently provided for under the Linda Mama initiative under the defunct National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).

In the 2024/25 budget estimates, the allocation for free delivery has been cut by half, from Sh4 billion to Sh2 billion. The cut in the budget triggered a heated debate between Ministry of Health officials and members of the National Assembly Committee on Health.

Furious legislators pushed for answers on why there was a slash on the free maternity programme despite high demand of deliveries. Appearing before the committee during deliberation of health budget estimates, Director of Health Financing at Ministry of Health, Elizabeth Wangia, said only indigent women will be considered for free delivery under the new health scheme - Social Health Authority (SHA).

Dr Wangia explained to the Robert Pukose-led committee that all schemes under SHA will be collapsed. “As much as Linda Mama will be a stand-alone fund, we will identify pregnant women as provided in the Act. If indigent, they should be assisted to get service,” said Wangia.


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“Just like any other indigent, means testing is done, and a pregnant mother is considered an indigent, so she will be covered,” she said.

In the new scheme, unlike the repealed National Health Fund, mothers will have a premium paid for together with their households under the new scheme. “For Linda Mama, it was actually a payment based on service. If a mother sought care, and wanted to deliver, delivery was paid for, antenatal care was paid for, but then, her household was not covered for,” Wangai said.

Nandi Woman Rep Cythia Muge demanded to know why the allocation has been slashed. She warned that the scrapping of Linda mama initiative might cause more deaths. Kenya records at least 21 neonatal mortalities per 100,000 live births. Data also indicate that 6,000 to 8,000 women die globally during child birth.

Seme MP James Nyikal, a former Director of Public Health, regretted the ministry’s move, saying the country might end up having more deaths at birth. “From my observation, there is a gap. Someone must sit down and get solutions. If women are not getting Linda Mama, transition process will result into deaths,” said Dr Nyikal.

Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge called for clarity from the ministry on state of Linda Mama. “According to this Act, it is mandatory for everybody to be registered including when a newborn should be registered. Where’s the new indigent women coming from? The system should include everybody.”

Linda Mama was initiated in 2016 under NHIF, by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to reduce maternal and infant mortality. Since its introduction, the number of women delivering in hospitals has increased, so has the number of CS deliveries, which have more than doubled.

Ministry of Health data indicate 948,000 deliveries were registered, numbers that increased to 1.19 million in 2019. Before the free hospital delivery, majority of women from poor households sought help from traditional birth attendants, an issue that contributed to high maternal and infant deaths. For example, in 2008/9, Kenya’s maternal deaths stood at 488 per 100,000 lives.