Kenya: Pregnant Women, New-Borns Pay the Price of Health Workers Strike

23 February 2021

The interruption of medical services due to the ongoing health workers' strike, has caused untold suffering to Taita Taveta residents with women and children paying the price.

Nation.africa has learnt that since services were interrupted in December last year, at least four women have died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth complications. The latest case of death was reported a fortnight ago in Bughuta, Voi Sub-county.

Despite the County Department of Health strengthening its facilities to deliver high quality maternal and new-born health services, lack of these services in public health facilities for the last three months is a significant drawback to the progress made to prevent maternal deaths.

Pregnant women now seek services in private facilities or the risky option of giving birth at home.

The county government has ensured health facilities remain operational, though on a limited scale with a few sections offering services. But even with that, service uptake has dropped after some of the departments were shut, leading to the rise in mortality cases.

Private facilities

Most cases occur in rural areas where private facilities are far-flung.

Pregnant women and new-borns are literally paying the price. Even though the government introduced Linda Mama, a free health insurance cover targeting pregnant women in rural areas and poor households, not all women in the county enrol for it.

Some are ignorant and only present themselves in hospitals when it is time to give birth without ever attending antenatal clinics.

"More awareness needs to be done to ensure our women are conversant with the Linda Mama cover. Information about pregnancy and maternal care services, especially about this free cover has not reached every corner of the county," Tsavo Clinic CEO Nancy Omwenga tells nation.africa.

For instance, the woman from Bughuta died after developing complications a few hours after giving birth at home.

Efforts by her family to save her life by rushing her to a hospital in Voi were futile. She left behind a one-day-old baby and two other older children.

Lack of an incubator

In another incident, a woman and her new-born died in a private facility in Voi last month. She is said to have succumbed to excessive bleeding while her baby died for lack of an incubator at the facility.

A total of 67 facilities across the county offer maternity services. Since 2017, the Department of Health has constructed and equipped Werugha, George Faraji and Vighombonyi dispensary maternity units. Other units under construction are Marungu, Bughuta, Mwaktau, Manoa, Msau, Shelemba, Kimorigo, Bamako and Kirumbi.

The department also intends to put up maternity wings in new health facilities coming up including Paranga, Njoro, Lumi, Kidong, Kachero, Mwachawaza, Mgungani-Salaita, Shigharo and Mengo Dispensaries.

"The dispensaries will have fully equipped delivery rooms," says County Executive for Health Mr John Mwakima.

Maternity wing

Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi, the largest facility in the county, has also had its maternity wing expanded. Despite the existence of these facilities, the strike has been a drawback.

In Taveta Sub-county, women are forced to cross the border into Tanzania where maternity services are affordable.

With the closure of the borders, these women now use illegal routes along the Taveta-Holili border to access the neighbouring country.

A woman who recently developed childbirth complications in Taveta was ferried to Faraja Health Centre popularly known as Kwa Minja in Himo, in Tanzania, using a boda boda, risking her life and that of her new-born.

The county government is at an advanced stage of recruiting new health workers to save the situation and are currently conducting interviews to replace the 400 striking workers.

"We have resolved most of the grievances raised by the workers but they chose to join the nationwide strike. I want to assure the residents that we are working to resume services in our facilities," Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja said recently.

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