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Samantha Power: 'We aim to enhance access to transport in emergencies'


 USAID Administrator Samantha Power during an interview with KTN after  touring  the Mbagathi hospital maternity and Newborn unit in Nairobi on June 21, 2023. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Samantha Power was part of the team working with the Kenya government and representing the US government in the launch of the M-Mama project that seeks the help of volunteer drivers in saving the lives of women and infants.

What was your visit to Kenya and parts of the East African region about?

The US-Kenya partnership has been stronger. We are collaborating on everything from regional security issues, encouraging peace resolutions to the war in Sudan, to the USAID providing humanitarian assistance to help deal with drought conditions in places like Turkana which I visited last year, at the height of the fifth failed rainy season. In the health sector, we have been combating malaria, HIV and TB, including Covid-19 where we worked together in vaccinating so many Kenyans.

Talk to us about the meeting you had with the president...

We had clinics (at Mbagathi Hospital) which recorded an average of 40 births a day, at least 10 of which had some form of complications -- but there was only one ambulance and this was in Nairobi where there are several modes of transport. In rural areas, the leading cause of maternal and newborn deaths is not being able to get to a health facility or a health worker. M-Mama will enhance emergency transportation in Kenya.

Part of my discussion with the President was about him and his team throwing their weight (support) behind this (M-Mama) project. Between the Vodafone Foundation, M-Pesa Foundation, the US and the Kenyan Governments, we think that just within a few years we can get into a situation where a pregnant mother knows she can get to a hospital to get the services she needs safely without having to walk, ride a bicycle and stay at home and potentially die of complications. We think this is an exciting example of bringing technology to bear a major health challenge. It is a public-private partnership.

How many counties are set to benefit from the M-Mama initiative?

We will start by piloting, and the government and its implementation team will figure out will find where there is a big coverage gap in terms of transport. But we will see the initial parts being in rural areas, where there is the inability to get to healthcare. This is what ends up killing a mother and a child.

Even in an urban area like this one (Nairobi), some people are forced to walk to facilities because they cannot afford a taxi or find their way to the hospital. Our objective is 100 per cent coverage within 5 years. We think we can get there. We have done this in Tanzania where we have witnessed a 38 per cent drop in maternal mortality in areas where piloting has been done for emergency transportation. We expect tens and thousands of lives to be saved as soon as the project is up and running.

How is conflict in Africa impacting on health of women, particularly on maternal and child health?

For every day that conflict goes on without remedy, without leaders, the so-called military leaders, putting the interest of their people first, we are going to see hospitals without electricity, surgeons performing surgery by candlelight because of lack of fuel, mothers unable to get any form of transport to hospitals, doctors fleeing to become refugees and no longer providing healthcare.

When individuals in a country, or a military faction within a country turn on themselves, it is usually women and children who suffer the most. This is what is happening right now in Sudan.

Preterm babies in Kenya and the continent barely survive, what do you think can be done?

Transportation is part of the issue. The sooner premature babies can get support and care, the greater chance they have to survive. Speed is important, but also the training of community health workers to make them understand the signs of preterm birth. It is also important to make sure we digitalise health records, and that the dispatch system is as efficient as possible so that if a mother turns up in a part of a country that does not have what is required, the mother can get transported to any other facility for care.

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