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Lamu traditional midwives blamed for rise in stillbirths

Thursday August 15 2019

Dr Salim Zubeir

Faza Sub-County Hospital Medical Superintendent Salim Zubeir who said that every month, 7 out 20 women who come to deliver at the facility undergo emergency Caesarean section due to complications arising from belly massages by traditional midwives. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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Doctors in Lamu County have raised the alarm over the increase in the number of women who have been losing their babies during birth, a situation which is said to be majorly as a result of traditional birth attendants (TBAs) administering prenatal massages to pregnant women.

The massages are meant to reduce stress and promote overall wellness of pregnant women, although the practice is slowly dying out.

But many women in villages like Faza, Tchundwa, Kizingitini, Mkokoni, Kiwayu, Mwajumwali, Basuba, Kiunga, Ishakani, Milimani, Mangai, Mararani and Kiangwe, all in Lamu East, have been relying on the traditional birth attendants and midwives for the belly massages before and even during child delivery.


But speaking in his office on Wednesday, Faza Sub-County Hospital Medical Superintendent Salim Zubeir said out 20 women who come to deliver at the facility each month, seven have to undergo emergency Caesarean section due to complications arising from the belly massages.

Dr Zubeir said at least two out of five babies die from the effects of the tummy massages each month in Faza and the surrounding villages.


He called on the traditional birth attendants to avoid massaging pregnant women and instead accompany them to the hospital where they are guaranteed safe delivery.


“There is a tendency by traditional birth attendants here in Faza and the surrounding villages to secretly conduct belly massages to pregnant women. The situation is resulting in most of the women to have stillbirths once they arrive at the hospital to deliver. I am aware most residents here treat prenatal massage as a tradition. They believe every pregnant woman has to be massaged first before delivery.

“I want them to understand that careless prenatal massages are killing their babies and therefore should stop. The situation has even increased the need for emergency and life-saving Caesarean sections. Let them be advised that the hospital can take care of them better,” said Dr Zubeir.

A spot check by the Nation revealed that apart from lack of health amenities, women in some villages prefer being handled by traditional midwives since they pamper them as opposed to doctors and nurses in hospitals.


Mrs Zulekha Ali, a resident of Tchundwa, said traditional birth attendants are easily available in their villages with their services being cheap.

“This is my third pregnancy to be handled by a traditional birth attendant. We’re used to them. They know how to talk to us in a polite way compared to hospitals where you can even be beaten by a nurse while you are in pain. I have never had any complications since I started giving birth. Maybe the stillbirths are because of other reasons and not belly massages,” said Mrs Ali.

Mrs Amina Kupi said the massage therapy performed by the traditional birth attendants during pregnancy always makes her reduce anxiety and even relieve muscle aches and joint pains.


“I love belly and feet massages. Every time it’s done to me, I feel relieved of the muscle and joint pains. The massages also relieve headaches and backaches,” said Mrs Kupi.

Commenting on the same, Lamu Traditional Birth Attendants Spokesperson Shumi Mkunga refuted claims that new-born babies in the region are dying due to prenatal massages.

Mrs Mkunga said most of the midwives have undergone special training by doctors in the region and that they have been conducting their roles as per the lessons they received.


She said the babies die probably due to bad luck and not because of prenatal massage.

“We don’t just do our roles anyhow because we understand a pregnant woman is very fragile. We thank the Lamu County government for providing us with special training. We’ve been doing our roles based on what we learnt. They shouldn’t blame us for anything,” said Mrs Mkunga.

Recently, the Lamu TBAs demanded that the county government of Lamu puts them on the payroll since they are of great help to locals in areas with infrastructure challenges and those lacking health amenities.

“We want salaries and let the county government continue incorporating us in maternal health programmes. We’re highly regarded in our community, particularly for those living in areas which lack the amenities,” said Mrs Amina Yusuf.