HEALTHCARE

Speaking truth to maternal health injustice

Close to 808 women needlessly lose their lives every day due to pregnancy and childbirth.

In Summary

• In Kenya, 50,100 women lost their lives from complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth

• Recent projections indicate the country loses 6,300 every year to maternal-related deaths.

Speaking truth to maternal health injustice
Speaking truth to maternal health injustice
Image: OZONE

Pregnancy and childbirth are not marginal issues. Conservative global estimates indicate that around 210 million women become pregnant annually.

Out of this, more than 140 pregnancies go to full term. Sadly, more that 7,000 newborns are lost daily, mostly from preventable causes. Additionally, close to 808 women needlessly lose their lives every day due to pregnancy and childbirth. This is a worrying trend that militates against the desired sustainable development goals related to health and well-being.

Preventable infant and maternal deaths are a big challenge for most developing economies. It is estimated that between 1990 and 2015, more than 10 million women died globally from maternal related causes and most of the death occurred in developing countries.

 

In Kenya, 50,100 women lost their lives from complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth during the same period. Recent projections indicate the country loses 6,300 every year to maternal-related deaths.

High child and maternal deaths have been linked to limited access and use of skilled birth attendance, occasioned by poor quality of services, unavailability of information on services, prohibitive user fees, mistreatment and neglect of pregnant women by healthcare workers, incidences of insecurity and cultural practices. These barriers originate from supply side and demand side deficiencies as well as health facility and home-based factors.

I am inclined to reflect on the unique struggles and challenges faced by women from underprivileged backgrounds during pregnancy and childbirth. My attention is drawn to the experiences of two women from Kibera and Mukuru slums whose tribulations is typical what most women undergo when accessing Kenya’s maternal healthcare system.

Mercyline , a first-time mother pregnant with twins, lost her newborns in the most inhuman and undignifying manner at a county referral facility where she had sought emergency obstetric and newborn care. On arrival, she was taken to the labour ward where she waited for emergency assistance from the health workers. Unattended to, she went into labour and delivered her first baby by herself. Halfway through the second birth, she received assistance. 

The attending health worker assessed the condition of the newborns and unilaterally told Mercyline that they were both too young to survive. He tossed the newborn twins into a carton box while they were still live, in the full glare of the mother. That senseless action left Mercyline traumatised and fearful of childbirth and the maternity ward. She is still waiting for justice.

The case of Celestine from Kibera is equally depressing. Pregnant with her third child, she had sought emergency treatment at a national referral hospital. The admitting doctor gave clear instructions to the maternity ward personnel to monitor the progression of her labour, given her history of difficult pregnancies.

In the middle of the night she had labour contractions and cried out for assistance from the nurses, but she was ignored. She heroically delivered the child on her own but unfortunately, her daughter passed away due to the trauma caused by the fall from the bed and delayed medical attention. She went home dejected and closure for this unfortunate and preventable incident was prolonged by the health facility as it took her more than three days to locate her dead newborn. The hospital had tried to prevent Celestine and her husband from taking her home for decent burial as per their wishes. Celestine is also waiting for justice over her tribulations.

 

On October 15, the world marked Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, which seeks to promote awareness, remembrance and support to women and their families that have experienced pain and difficulty from the loss of their newborns.

It is our hope that the courage shown by Mercyline and Celestine to share their stories of pain in the maternity ward will encourage other women to speak out on injustices that they may face. Additionally, it is our expectation that health facility personnel will treat all women who access maternal health services with the dignity and respect that they rightly deserve and do their best to save lives.

Brezhnev Otieno is a health rights campaigner with Amnesty International Kenya