THE BLOG
09/08/2015 10:08 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ending Maternal and Child Deaths in Kenya-The Private Sector Can Help

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The co-authors, Dr Nicholas Muraguri and Siddharth Chatterjee along with Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas the UNRC, present a communiqué signed by Kenya's county Governors to end maternal and child deaths to the First Lady of Kenya, Ms Margaret Kenyatta.Photo Credit: @unfpaken

This article has been co-authored with Dr Nicholas Muraguri, DMS, Ministry of Health, Kenya

Although Kenya has overall made tremendous progress in improving maternal health, some sub-regions remain among the 10 most risky places in the world for women to give birth. The impact is most felt in remote and hard to reach places like, Mandera County, where for every 100,000 live births, about 3,795 women die every year.

Such high loss of lives due to preventable deaths in Kenya is worse than that of wartime Sierra Leone and neighbouring Somalia.

Documented challenges to maternal and child health in Kenya arise from a complex interplay of social, cultural, economic and logistical barriers, coupled with under-resourced facilities and a high fertility rate.

The dire situation of maternal mortality propelled the Government of Kenya to undertake a free maternal care policy in 2013 as well as launch the First Lady of Kenya's Beyond Zero campaign aimed at scaling up prenatal and postnatal health care. Already there are results to show for example deliveries under the care of health workers have increased from 44 percent to 61 percent.

The Beyond Zero campaign has been instrumental in raising the consciousness of the entire nation regarding the plight of many often underserved women and girls in desperate need of proper health care.

In recent times, attention is turning to the role of the private sector in delivering quality health care. This was a key point at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development held in July 2015 at Addis Ababa. The President of Kenya, H.E Uhuru Kenyatta remarked at the event, that, "for all that progress, more needs to be done to improve access to quality reproductive, maternal, postnatal and adolescent health services."

The private sector has the resources, rigor, expertise and innovative spirit needed to create new and more-effective products, services and technologies to deliver public goods. These are qualities that have not received full attention in improving health care delivery and saving lives.

In Kenya a number of Public Private Partnership are already helping to improve health outcomes, while creating shared value for the private sector in order to ensure a sustained engagement that has a social and economic return on investment.

For instance UNFPA Kenya is partnering with technology company Philips, the Ministry of Health and the County Government to launch a Community Life Centre in Mandera County. This unique pilot initiative seeks to improve maternal and child health services (MNCH) by bringing health care, technology and communities together. If it succeeds, a rapid scale up will follow.

A partnership between GSK and Save the Children will contribute to an estimated 21% accelerated reduction in maternal and new-born mortality in Bungoma County.

MSD has also been investing in Kenya to support advocacy for cervical cancer prevention and control, and in supporting Kenya's HPV vaccine programme.

Kenya's private sector is in particular at the forefront of developing mobile health (mHealth) solutions to tackle two of the main challenges for women: affordability; and access to sexual and reproductive health. Some of these initiatives include:

Changamka Microhealth, which supports mothers in Nairobi by providing an innovative e-voucher system that helps them access safe birth facilities staffed by skilled birth attendants.

Jamii Smart, which builds on the widespread success of Safaricom's M-Pesa is using web portals and SMS messages to deliver clinical services for mothers and case management for children under-5 linked to community heath monitoring and evaluation system.

• USAID Kenya, Equity Bank, and Equity Group Foundation will launch a network of outpatient health facilities called Equity Afia. It will leverage the Equity's Equitel mobile phone platform to disseminate free, useful and tailored health information to expectant women and their partners to increase knowledge as well as address logistics barriers in preparing for safe deliveries and healthy child-rearing practices.

Fostering public-private sector partnerships will help fill the gaps in capacity, resources, knowledge and innovation to reduce the greatest mortality risks faced by women today. It will also set a new standard for how companies, governments, United Nations and NGOs can work together towards a shared goal.

The UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin stated that: "We are not looking to private sector organizations that will do corporate social responsibility; we are looking to private sector organizations that actually would incorporate these issues in their own DNA."

Kenya is among the front runner countries for an innovative model known as the Global Financing Facility (GFF) that responds to the clarion call by the UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon to address the needs of "Every Woman, Every Child". The GFF coordinated by the World Bank, provides a financing model that knits together resources from governments, international donors, and the private sector to accelerate sustainable advancements in the health of women and children.

The upward trend of health spending in Kenya provides an opportune environment for the private sector to innovate and invest to deliver self-sustaining solutions to the core problems impeding MNCH outcomes.

Sustainable Development starts when life begins, therefore the time to act is now. Join us and help make a difference.

Dr. Nicholas Muraguri is the Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health, Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidhat1) is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya. Follow "Every Woman Every Child" on twitter: @UNfEWEC