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Kenyan parliamentarians commit to maternal health advocacy

2011 July 19
by FCI Program of MSH

by Angela Mutunga and Sam Mulyanga

Angela Mutunga and Sam Mulyanga are country director and senior program officer, respectively, at FCI-Kenya.

In Kenya today, a woman dies every hour from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, and many more suffer illness or injury. Kenya’s maternal mortality ratio currently stands at 488 deaths per 100,000 live births. In order to achieve MDG 5 — the fifth Millennium Development Goal calls for developing countries to reduce maternal mortality by ¾ and to provide universal access to reproductive health — Kenya needs to reduce that ratio to 147 per 100,000 by 2015. Unfortunately, momentum has been moving in the wrong direction: maternal mortality actually worsened by 18% between 2003 and 2009.

Last Friday in Nairobi, members of Kenya’s Parliament came together with maternal health advocates to commit themselves to reversing these deplorable statistics. The meeting, organized by the advocacy coalition Women Alive, aimed to enlist parliamentarians, including members of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA),  as advocates for increased national investment in programs that save women’s lives.

At the meeting, Dr. Issak Bashir, head of the Division of Reproductive Health in the Ministry of Health, began with a presentation on the current state of maternal health in Kenya, noting that only 43% of births take place in health facilities that offer skilled delivery care. Responding to Dr. Bashir’s presentation, members of Parliament called on the Ministry of Health to work more closely with key parliamentary committees (particularly the House Health Committee) and to strengthen accountability mechanisms. “There’s a tendency in Africa to ask for more all the time, but what have we done with what we are given?” asked Hon. Abdul Bahari, a member of the Budget Committee.

I will be ready to make noise in Parliament and villages. If I can be of use in any other forum I am ready.

-Hon. Amina Abdallah
Member of Parliament

Dr. Bashir noted that in certain rural areas maternal mortality figures are more than double the national average. MPs lamented the lack of access and availability of quality maternal health services in their districts. “Where I come from, husbands are delivering their wives,” said Hon. Sophia Abdinoor. Members committed to network with fellow members and with parliamentarians from other countries in the region, to enact supporting legislation that addresses health service inequities, and to work for more funding. “We are leaving from here to the budget discussions, and we need to go there and discuss this,” remarked Hon. Ekwe Ethuro. Members also promised to become active advocates for maternal health. “I will be ready to make noise in Parliament and villages. If I can be of use in any other forum I am ready,” affirmed Hon. Amina Abdallah.

Women Alive is a coalition that works to strengthen political commitment for maternal health in Kenya; FCI-Kenya serves as its secretariat. In the coming weeks, coalition members will meet to map out the next steps in translating these parliamentary commitments into concrete action to save women’s lives.

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