Mandera banks on volunteers to cut maternal deaths

Mandera banks on volunteers to cut maternal deaths

Volunteer health workers and the introduction of a community centre in Mandera County is lowering maternal mortality rates as more women give birth in health facilities.

The county has, for a long time, set the record for having one of the highest maternal mortality rates at 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births, way higher than Kenya’s average maternal mortality rate of 448 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


This was attributed to preventable causes and lack of health facilities, so the opening of a Community Life Centre (CLC) integrating healthcare with socio-economic solutions, at Dandu, aims to reverse the numbers. This public-private partnership between the county government, UNFPA and Phillips, serves a population of 40,000 in Mandera West Constituency. Women in Mandera bear five children on average, usually delivered by traditional birth attendants (TBAs). Habiba Sheikh Ahmed, a 30-year-old mother of six, delivered her youngest child, a five-day-old infant at the Dandu CLC, breaking away from the tradition of delivering with the help of a TBA. And had she not chosen to attend an ante-natal care clinic when she was seven months pregnant, she might have lost the pregnancy. Fatula Abdulahi, a disabled mother on her ninth pregnancy, made a decision to visit the health centre after talking to a community health worker. Only four of her eight children are alive, and she hopes that the workers at the community centre will help her keep them and the coming one alive.


Due to lack of proper healthcare and cultural impediments (men cannot treat women), mothers face many challenges and childbirth complications which include, prolonged labour, infections from childbirth, haemorrhaging, and low and high blood pressure. Volunteer community health workers are therefore a welcome addition in the war against maternal and infant deaths. They traverse the county on foot, carrying basic medical equipment and supplies, following the nomadic community to advise pregnant women to visit the health centre and deliver under proper medical care.

“Initially there was resistance, but now the residents seek us out for advice on health matters,” says Rashid Ibrahim, one volunteer community health worker who has convinced five women to give birth at a health facility in the past three months.

The volunteers work with religious leaders who use their influence to sensitise the community on the need for professional healthcare.

Nevertheless, one challenge lingers – most pregnant women now attend ante-natal clinics, but that does not translate into all of them delivering at the health facility. Births at the facility are three times less than the numbers recorded at the antenatal clinic. When the county government took over in 2013, there were 52 medical facilities, but only 10 were functional.

The county has reopened all of them and added 11 more. Phillips Africa CEO Jasper Westerink says the company plans to introduce the community life centre model in other countries in Africa, as part of the company’s focus on improving mother and child health and access to primary healthcare. The CLC projects also provide lighting, water and security thus promoting business opportunities. A similar facility set up in Kiambu County has recorded great success.