It is the single largest maternity hospital in East and Central Africa, yet Pumwani, the health facility where President Uhuru Kenyatta was born 56 years ago, remains neglected.
Founded in 1926 by a charitable organization called Lady Grigg Welfare League, it was named Lady Grigg Maternity before it was rebranded to Pumwani in 1928, when the first permanent building was put up at the facility.
Later on, according to history of the hospital, some extensions were made to give it a bed capacity of 27, and in 1944, it was taken over by the now-defunct Nairobi Municipal Council.
Despite the negative publicity about Pumwani, as a one-stop shop for booming baby business, it has remained the pioneer in the provision of maternity care in sub-Saharan Africa.
From a 27-bed capacity, the hospital grew rapidly to 75 beds, then to 117-bed capacity in 1969, when President Jomo Kenyatta presided over the opening of the expanded new unit.
During that time, deliveries increased from 3,000- 8,000 per year.
However, since the 1969 expansion by the First President, the hospital has remained in its dire state, over-stretched and cannot effectively cater for the huge number of delivery cases.
At inception, the new hospital block comprised 117-bed ward, a theatre and a modern 50-bed unit for Neonates, an X-Ray department, a laboratory, a library and a conference room.
Today, it is an obstetric and referral hospital for deliveries serving Nairobi, and the adjacent counties of Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado and many other patients due to influx into the city.
The hospital has 354 obstetric beds, 144 baby cots and two theatres, and daily normal deliveries are 50-100. Caesarean Sections are between 10 -15. However, only 265 beds in five wards are in use. On average, Pumwani records 80 deliveries per day, which translate into about 1,700 children per month and 21,000 annually.
It is equivalent to a Level 5 Hospital in status and it is reported to be the third busiest maternity hospital in Africa.
The pressure on safe deliveries, has over-stretched the facility, with no capacity to serve maternity services effectively.
It is on this backdrop that Nairobi county has proposed e plans to refurbish the facility and position it as a premier hospital in the region.
Governor Mike Sonko now wants to expand the facility by putting up another 450-bed capacity, 10-storey building adjacent to the old one, which was put up in 1969.
The new facility, which is awaiting approval from the Nairobi County Assembly, will be named Sonko Pumwani Women’s Hospital and College of Nursing and Midwifery.
Sonko says the new block will have a pediatric ICU, an adult ICU, a HDU, staff quarters, laundry and all the necessary facilities.
“These are some of the things the staff at Pumwani have been complaining about,” Sonko says.
“The proposed facility shall cover a total area of 39,699 square metres and will to offer surgeries, procedures, deliveries, immunization, inpatient beds, with 24-hour emergency services and high-end diagnostic services.”
It will also have labour wards, delivery suites, with four fully functional theatre wards, a post- natal ward, a newborn unit with 100 incubators, a neonatal ICU, about 20 neonatal HDU and 30 procedure rooms for breastfeeding.
Sonko says the antenatal ward will have 60 beds, and the acute gynecology unit will have 50 beds. It will also have a gynecology theatre, hostels for mothers with babies in the nursery, a mortuary and offer post-mortem services.
A laundry, hospital kitchen, ambulance services for mothers, County Insurance Desk for residents,rResidential accommodation for hospitals staff, among others, are considerations.
“We are committed in ensuring quality service provision to our mothers,” Sonko says.
Sonko’s plan comes 49 years after Mzee Kenyatta’s 1969 expansion.
The governor says he is committed to achieve Pumwani’s mission to provide leadership in maternity services, training and development of clinical and nursing services.
Before the groundbreaking ceremony of the new 10-storey building scheduled for November 20, Sonko first engaged the Aga Khan University top leadership to provide additional doctor, nurses and support staff for a period of two years.
This is intended to help address the shortage of personnel at the facility, which has only 381 staff of all cadre. This is not enough to serve the big number of women coming at the facility.
On September 18, Sonko made an impromptu visit to Pumwani when he found 12 dead infants dumped in polythene bags and boxes.
Faith Kanini, 28, from Umoja 3 in Embakasi West, was among women whose babies had died at Pumwani under unclear circumstances.
She appealed to the governor to intervene.
“I want justice so that I know what caused my baby’s death. I want to thank whoever exposed the rot at Pumwani Hospital and I hope this will help mothers deliver safely,” Kanini said.
Angered by the scenario, Sonko suspended the top leadership of the facility.
“I was sent a text on Sunday 16th September at 21:47 hours by a mother and I quote, ‘Good evening your excellency, I have gotten information that there’s a problem at Pumwani hospital after one theatre was closed down and the sterilizing machine was closed down from operating 24 hours by the hospital management, babies are dying. Please make a surprise visit to the hospital to avert the looming dangers. You are the only hope,’ Sonko said.
On the morning of September 29 at 2:45am, Sonko made yet another impromptu visit at Pumwani to assess the changes, two weeks after the firs ambush.
The governor says he was impressed with the changes in service delivery, which is working on a 24-hour basis.
Sonko says he will not allow any woman to suffer when giving birth.
“Our mothers do a great job of bringing us to earth. Therefore, we should provide better facilities for them to deliver safely. We cannot afford to lose the mother or the child,” he said.
Some women, who spoke to the governor, said they had not been charged, and that they had received “first class” treatment at the facility.
Mwende Nzioki, a mother of two, said they were well received at the facility.
“I have just given birth to my second child. We were well received and I delivered normally. I’m really grateful, I have not been charged anything,” she said.
Waithera Kimani and Akinyi Auma, who had also delivered at the facility, said they are glad to have given birth safely at the hands of the staff at Pumwani.