• Policies mandating training of health providers on respectful maternal care and providing information on respectful entitlements to women and girls must be adopted.
• These should be accompanied by clear means of addressing negligence or disrespectful maternal care, to ensure accountability.
Maternal deaths and injuries could be averted, if all pregnant women in Kenya — including those from low-income backgrounds — had access to high-quality antenatal care and basic, but well-equipped, health facilities.
They must be staffed by competent health professionals, including midwives.
Addressing the unmet need for family planning for all women and girls, including adolescents and women and girls from low-income backgrounds, also has the potential to drastically reduce maternal mortality and morbidity through the prevention of unintended pregnancies.
The recently released report by the World Health Organization, 'Trends in Maternal Mortality', shows about 7,000 Kenyan women die every year from pregnancy-related causes. This is among the highest rates in the world.
Women and girls from low-income backgrounds, those who have achieved only lower levels of education, are most affected by maternal mortality and morbidity arising from a lack of access to quality and skilled services.
Therefore, policies that promote better maternal health outcomes for this group are necessary.
These include policies that mandate provision of information on where to access complete recommended number of antenatal and post-natal visits; mandate where to access skilled maternity care; access to care that is affordable, subsidised, or providing for fee waivers; prohibit detention in facilities for inability to pay hospital bills; provide for dissemination of accurate and timely information on family planning methods and mandate a range of family planning methods to be available and accessible, including to adolescents, would all be useful.
Policies that mandate continued training of health service providers on respectful maternal care and the providing of information on respectful maternal care entitlements to women and girls seeking maternal health should also be adopted.
These should be accompanied by clear means of addressing negligence or disrespectful maternal care, to ensure accountability. Because health is devolved, county governments must put in place measures, laws and policies that allow for the above. More than anything, implementation of the policies after their adoption is often problematic.
The above policy proposals could easily be anchored on the Constitution and the Health Act (2017). Investment into implementation of the policies through planning, budgeting, monitoring during implementation, data collection to inform policy decisions and evaluation would be key.
Betty Odallo is a senior technical adviser, Center for Reproductive Rights