When Lena Makunye went into labor to give birth to her second child, she had no idea that she would have to undergo emergency surgery to save her and her baby’s life. “I was in labor for a long time, but the baby was not coming. When I was told I had to go to the operating theatre, I was scared: I had never been through that before. I was in pain and my heart was breaking, but the doctors talked to me and gave me strength. My son was handed to me shortly after.”
At the Mrima Health Centre in Likoni, expectant mothers like Lena now have access to emergency obstetric care. Médecins Sans Frontières, together with the Mombasa County Department of Health, has upgraded the facility so that women experiencing complications with their pregnancy can deliver safely and free of charge. Since January, an operating theatre built from shipping containers means that women in need of caesarean sections can now give birth to their babies closer to home. This is a temporary measure until a permanent building is constructed.
"While maternal death rates in Kenya have reduced over the last few years, pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications still account for nearly one-fifth of deaths in women of reproductive age"
Prior to January, there was no functional emergency obstetrics facility in Likoni Sub-County, and women who were suffering complications with their deliveries had to be referred to another hospital that could only be reached by ferry. Long waiting times at night meant that the lives of many mothers and babies were being put in danger. “This facility has become a life-saver in the area,” says Josephine Masikini, midwife and Project Coordinator for MSF in Likoni. “Women can now rest easier knowing that they have the possibility of a safe delivery in case of emergency, assisted by a qualified birth attendant.” In January and February, 737 babies were delivered in the Mrima Health Centre, including 143 by caesarean section. Medical teams also conducted 2,273 antenatal consultations.
While maternal death rates in Kenya have reduced over the last few years, pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications still account for nearly one-fifth of deaths in women of reproductive age. Around 40% of women are not delivering their babies in a health facility, nor are they assisted by a skilled birth attendant. There are also many regions in the country where maternal death rates are much higher than the national average, with health facilities out of reach for many women due to distance or cost. In 2015, an estimated 34,000 babies died in Kenya before they reached one month of age. “After the extension and refurbishment of the Mrima Health Centre is completed, we are hopeful that the facility will serve as a model of care for counties in Kenya where maternal and neonatal death rates remain high,” continues Masikini. “Starting in 2018,we also plan to train health workers from other counties, aiming to contribute to reducing the number of deaths of mothers and babies in those areas.”