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Enjoying maternity remains a pipe-dream

Health & Science

By Kwamboka Oyaro

"The foetus is not growing. We need to clean you up," the doctor at a private clinic in Kisii County told the desperate woman who was looking forward to the birth of her baby, after years of trying to conceive. The words were cold, even numbing.

"Why isn’t my baby growing?" she frantically sought an explanation. "Nobody knows why that happens but you need to be cleaned immediately," the doctor said with finality and turned to answer a call on his mobile phone. The woman looked at him in horror as he joked and laughed with the caller.

Great pain

At the public hospital nearby, another woman who had developed complications after a miscarriage, or in medical terms an incomplete abortion, was being insulted. "You women who procure abortions, you deserve to be in great pain," a nurse jeered.

Yet, at private hospital in the same county, money changed hands as a woman was in labour. Her husband did not want another child and instructed the health workers to tie her fallopian tubes (tubal ligation, a permanent family planning method) as she underwent a C-section. She was never given a chance to discuss this issue and decide for herself that she wanted her reproductive chapter closed.

These scenarios are common when it comes to reproductive and maternal health.

It is ten years since the Government committed itself to ensure the Millennium Development Goal number five was realised by 2015. The goal states: Achieving good maternal health requires quality reproductive health services and well-timed interventions to ensure a women’s safe passage to motherhood. Failure to provide these results in hundreds of thousands of needless deaths each year—a sad reminder of the low status accorded to women in many societies.

Treated humanely

Only five years are remaining for women to enjoy this. But there are no serious efforts on the ground to ensure women get proper maternal healthcare and are treated humanely when they seek medical attention either from private or public hospitals. The cases I referred happened about two weeks ago – at the time when world leaders, including President Kibaki, were in New York reviewing the MDGs and giving glowing reports about how their countries were progressing well towards the finish line in 2015.

Recently, The Standard carried a story about an untrained woman in Turkana County who is manning a health centre and ‘treating’ hundreds of patients. Woe unto a woman with maternal health complications seeking urgent medical intervention – without training, the health provider will have no clue where to start. But the trained ones are no better: they have made women think they are gods and their word is law. Rarely do women seek a second opinion when it comes to their maternal health. Although medical care in this country is expensive, that is not the reason they are not taking control of their maternal health; it is because they don’t know they are supposed to.

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