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Dynamics of Free Maternity Services

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Costs for Medical fees at a Public Hospital.  Costs for Medical fees at a Public Hospital.

Child birth can be a joyous occasion and a sad one at the same time especially if a mother or child loses their life in the process due to birth complications that arise during delivery. Only a mother can explain the joy that she feels when she delivers a baby safely in the care of medical practitioners in a hospital setting. Child delivery in Kenya has been difficult for poor mothers who have had to struggle with maternity fees forcing them to opt to deliver their babies at home. This has sometimes proved to be fatal due to complications that arise during childbirth leading to loss of life for both mother and child.

The jubilee coalition during its campaigns and in its manifesto promised to offer Kenyan mothers free maternity services in the first 100 days once it is elected into office. True to its word, President Uhuru Kenyatta during Madaraka day celebrations announced free maternity services in all public heath facilities June 1st 2013. With this directive in place mothers who gave birth and paid any fee in public health facilities on the day the president gave the directive were to be refunded with immediate effect. This move is also meant to fight poverty, a measure to uplift the living standards of the poor.

It is a fact that providing free maternity services is not a cheap and easy affair for the government. Extra labour will be required considering that most public hospitals have a shortage of staff and facilities. Kenyans are bound to run to run to these hospitals in large numbers due to the free services hence the need for extra staff.  The free primary education met a lot of hitches due to the number of children that filled public primary schools. The number of teachers did not match the number of students and neither did the facilities. It is for this reason that Sh1 billion was factored in the Budget for the realization of the free maternal provision of healthcare within the first 100 days.  In addition, a total of Sh8 billion will be used for the same programme in the next financial year

The issue of facilities is of great concern in public hospitals and Governor Kidero during his tour of Pumwani Hospital, the largest maternity hospital in East and Central Africa said that challenges do exist and need to be addressed if full implementation of the free maternal healthcare is to be achieved.  This include increasing the number of operation theatres from the current two to between six and seven to cater for increase in number of women due to the free service.

It has now been confirmed that more medical personnel have been dispatched to Pumwani Maternity Hospital after the number of patients increased. Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero confirmed that four doctors and two clinical officers were seconded to the facility early this week by Director of Medical Services Francis Kimani.  The doctors include Norah Adhiambo from Makueni District Hospital, Araka Kerubo from Kisii District Hospital, Maxwell Otieno from Mt Kenya Hospital and Esther Muthoni from Nanyuki District Hospital. Others are clinical officers John Wanyitu and Bernard Oloo from Mama Lucy Kibaki District Hospital and Mbagathi District Hospital, respectively. Statistics from the hospital show that the hospital delivers an average of 80 babies daily, 20 of them by caesarian sections.  

Mothers from the rural areas most of them from poor backgrounds are the greatest beneficiaries of this free maternal services.  Most of them usually opt for midwives due to the fact that they are cheaper and easily available.  It is a fact that it is safer to deliver a child in hospital compared to home with a traditional birth attendant due to the professional care that one gets.  Traditional birth attendants are not trained to handle complications that may arise during child birth.  Research indicates that due to efforts to ensure that women give birth in hospitals, there has been a decline in the number of deaths related to childbirth.

However, further commitment and investment in health systems is urgently required, if Kenya is to meet Millennium Development Goals relating to infant and maternal mortality by the 2015 deadline.

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