Thursday, September 6, 2007

HealthRight Launches New Initiative for Mothers and Newborn Children in Rural Kenya

The Partnership for Maternal and Neonatal Health will build local systems and capacity to address high rates of maternal and neonatal mortality.

HealthRight staff and partners at the MNH launch

WEST POKOT, Kenya - On September 5, 2007, HealthRight International (formerly Doctors of the World-USA), local partners, and members of the West Pokot community gathered at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kapenguria, Kenya, to mark the launch of HealthRight’s latest project in Kenya, the Partnership for Maternal and Neonatal Health. This new initiative will save lives and improve health services for women and children in the West Pokot District by improving access to maternal and newborn health services.  The project, made possible by a generous grant from USAID, will build on HealthRight’s continuing efforts over nearly three years to strengthen the local health system’s capacity to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the community.
The West Pokot region, populated by members of the Pokot ethnic minority, displays some of the worst health indicators in Kenya – particularly for women and children. The maternal mortality rate in the district is estimated at 565 deaths per 100,000 births, and neonatal mortality is more than 87 per 1,000 live births – compared to nationwide rates in Kenya of 414 deaths per 100,000 births and 29 per 1,000 live births respectively. Yet even these disturbing figures are considered to be an underestimate due to lack of data on maternal and newborn deaths in the community.   
“HealthRight was the first NGO we had in a long time that wanted to look at maternal health with child health,” said Sheila Macharia, Reproductive Health Specialist at USAID and point person for all USAID Child Survival and Health projects in Kenya. “[HealthRight] has done health system surveys and they have gone to the community.” 
Women and children die unnecessarily as the lack of health services exacerbates poverty and illness. An assessment performed by HealthRight in 2006 showed that few of the services recommended by both the Kenyan Ministry of Health (MOH) and the World Health Organization were offered by health facilities in the region. Women continue to give birth in their homes and cannot access medical care in case of an emergency. The long distances to health facilities and lack of transportation in the region prevent many from visiting clinics and hospitals.
Changing community attitudes and practices. An assessment conducted by HealthRight in February 2007 revealed that less than 12% of women seek institutional deliveries due to a variety of factors, from poverty to a reliance on traditional birth attendants. The new project will work to deconstruct long-held practices and encourage women to utilize vital health services. 
“It is unacceptable that so many women and newborn children are dying preventable deaths or suffering unnecessarily,” said HealthRight Program Director Vandana Tripathi. “Our goal is to ensure not only that services are available in the region, but that systems are in place enabling women to access life-saving care.”  

The Partnership for Maternal and Neonatal Health will build the capacity of local health providers to provide basic services and emergency obstetric care. HealthRight will train staff at regional clinics and at the main district hospital in ante- and pre-natal care and safe delivery practices. Mobile outreach services will reach those in isolated areas, providing basic care and immunizations. The project will also develop a new information system, remedying the lack of data on births and deaths and enabling the district to quantify its health needs.