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First Lady Margaret Kenyatta shines spotlight on maternal and child health

 First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at Thiba Health Centre ahead of the handing over of a Beyond Zero mobile clinic to Kirinyaga County

NAIROBI: First Lady Margaret Kenyatta hands over the final mobile clinic in Nairobi on Friday, ushering in a new phase in her push to improve child and maternal health.

It will be the 47th clinic that Mrs Kenyatta will be handing over since her Beyond Zero campaign began 32 months ago. After which the First Lady plans to focus on the construction of a Sh2.2 billion 150-bed capacity hospital that will have a seven-bed intensive care unit on an 20,000 square metre area.

Kenya's maternal mortality rate has declined to 362 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu, which has been the result of many initiatives in the health sector. Infant mortality stands at 39 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, even with the reduction, the country was unable to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals numbers four and five.

Kenya had committed to reduce maternal deaths to 147 deaths per 100,000 live births by last year, according to Nicholas Muraguri, the Health Principal Secretary.

Beyond Zero is a journey that began in January 2014 when the First Lady announced that she would run to raise funds for better health facilities for the poor, giving birth to the First Lady's Marathon.

In January 2014, she established the Beyond Zero Foundation, through which she partnered with the Government to fight for a reduction in maternal and child mortality, control the spread and ravages of HIV as well as raise funds for cancer diagnostic machines.

"My name is Margaret Kenyatta. I am a mother of three lovely children and can say without hesitation that it is unbelievably moving to hold your healthy baby in your arms. I will run to make a difference. I will run for the possibility of a healthy generation. I will run to raise funds to increase access to better health care through mobile clinics. I will run to keep mothers and newborns alive. I will run because every mother should be able to hold her baby and take the baby home..."

With those words, she embarked on the biggest race of her life.

The race has seen her criss-cross 46 counties delivering one mobile clinic after another, targeted to serve over 400,000 Kenyans.

She has also taken the race beyond the country's borders, visiting global capitals and pleading with world leaders to open their purses in support of Kenya's mothers and newborn babies.

Celebrities and philanthropists such as Melinda Gates, the co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as queen of pop, Madonna, have come calling, all in a bid to partner with the First Lady in her noble cause.

In every forum – a breakfast at State House, a boardroom meeting or a conference – the message has been the same; zero tolerance to anything that threatens the life of mother and baby. "Despite the battles we have won, the war is not over. It will not be over until we have zero new infections, zero HIV related deaths and zero stigma against HIV positive people," she told the 7th International Conference on Peer Education, Sexuality, HIV and Aids held in Nairobi in June.

This week, she is on the finish line as she hands over the last clinic to Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero.

"My ultimate satisfaction will be to hear that more children will live to celebrate their fifth birthday, that mother to child HIV transmission will be eliminated," said Mrs Kenyatta while handing over the 46th mobile clinic to Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria.

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