More than half of Kenyan women still give birth at home without the help of qualified attendants. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008/2009, 56 per cent of women give birth at home.
The deliveries, also referred to as home births, are more common in rural areas than in towns. The survey says 63 per cent of births in rural areas are delivered at home, compared to 25 per cent in towns.
The high figures have brought to the fore the reality on the ground, contradicting pronouncements by public officials on achievements in reproductive health. According to the Economic Survey 2010, health centres increased significantly by 8.2 per cent from 6,190 in 2008 to 6,696 last year.
Most of the new facilities were constructed through constituency development fund efforts, which comprises 2.5 per cent of the national Budget. Rift Valley, also the country’s largest province, has the highest number of facilities (1,732), housing slightly over a quarter of the country’s total health centres (25.9 per cent), followed by Central Province 1,251 or 18.7 per cent, Eastern (1,106), Coast (770), Nyanza (773), Western (426), Nairobi (406) and North Eastern 232.
Mr Christopher Omolo, a senior manager at the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, said the common reason given by women for choosing to give birth at home was the long distance to health centres. The problem was common in arid and semi-arid lands, where health facilities are poorly equipped and are far from homes.
“Despite the distance, some of the women who gave birth at home did not think a clinic was necessary,” said Mr Omolo. Apart from building more health centres, the official said there is a need for medical workers to educate women on the importance of giving birth in them.
Only 44 per cent of births are assisted by a doctor, nurse or midwife, 28 per cent by traditional birth attendants, and 21 per cent by untrained relatives or friends. “Seven per cent of women giving birth receive assistance from no one,” added Mr Omolo. The figures are worrying, given that pre- and post-natal care is critical to women’s health.
Also worrying is that half of women who give birth in the country do not seek post-natal care. It is one of the reasons the maternal mortality ratio has increased from 414 per 100,000 live births to 488 despite the government’s commitment to the fifth Millennium Development Goal, which aims at reducing the ratio by 75 per cent between 1990 and 2015.