It is estimated that 7,700 women die each year in Kenya from pregnancy related complications. This translates to 21 women dying each day or one woman every hour from preventable causes, making the need to address safe motherhood a human rights imperative. Maternity is the most important aspect of life, because that's where life begins. likewise, maternal mortality is the single greatest indicator of health systems that fail to meet the basic needs of the society's poorest and most vulnerable: women. While life expectancy for women is higher than men in most countries, many health and social factors contribute to a lower quality of life for women. Women are oft en not able to receive medical services because of lack of funding, transportation, and even awareness of their rights.
In Kenya, approximately one woman dies every hour from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths can be prevented. The causes are well known and the interventions are simple. Greater education and access to care are the answers.
The death of a woman, and especially that of a mother, has far reaching consequences. Women are the hearts and engines of their families, communities, and their country at large. Their health and survival has a huge impact on the economy and the environment as well as on peace and stability. The death of a mother shatters her family and threatens the family's wellbeing. We all have a role to play to save their lives by advocating, among other things, increased funding for programs to improve the health of mothers. Kenyan mothers must no longer die while giving life.
The Kenya Demographic Survey (2008/2009) indicates that maternal mortality has remained unacceptably high at an average of 488 deaths per 100,000 live births up from 414 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2003. Newborn deaths are also unacceptably high with an estimated 140 newborn deaths per day.
Solutions for improving maternal health already exist. They include family planning, skilled attendance at birth, and emergency obstetric care—things that some of us take for granted, yet they are inaccessible to the majority of Kenyan women.
The first step is to raise awareness of the impact and magnitude of maternal death in Kenya and then educate the public on their roles and responsibilities in addressing women's health. Here, the media can play an important role by advocating for more financial resources and educating both policy makers and the public.
We must also call our leaders to action as partners in the prevention of deaths of their mothers, wives, friends, relatives, and daughters. Government and private business in our region can work together to invest and strengthen health care delivery systems. This entails infrastructure development, roads, transport, security, educating and deploying adequate numbers and distribution of nurses and doctors, as well as facilitating a policy environment that improves the health of women and children.
Currently, government leaders and NGOs in Kenya are asking for more time on radio and TV to be dedicated to promoting and advancing maternal health issues; more space in the newspapers to discuss prevention of maternal mortality; commitment from mobile phone providers to send messages that promote positive health seeking behavior with regard to maternal health, sponsoring of events and campaigns that promote maternal health; and airing of documentaries and films dedicated to promoting investment in maternal health.
And it is not just maternal health that can be improved by these efforts. Malnutrition through all stages of early development stands to be greatly reduced if we take the important steps already discussed. Like many developing nations, Kenya carries the heavy burden of hunger.
While malnutrition is a critical human development issue across the globe, it is especially prevalent in our continent, where one in four people suffers. In Africa, 25 percent of children are undernourished and 40 percent are stunted. Fifty three percent of pregnant women in Africa are anemic–a public health problem in itself. Malnutrition links directly to poverty, child mortality, maternal mortality, AIDS, and many other diseases.
Malnutrition destroys young bodies and minds, harms education and work performance later in life, and ultimately damages communities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Africa. We know the solutions to prevent this cycle, and it is urgent that we, as leaders, set our goals in action.
By speaking up and calling on ourselves and our communities to take action, we can save millions of lives. Around the world, empowering women and girls is the human rights issue of our time. Educating women is a necessary and effective approach to strengthening society overall. There is no better time to join together in making health systems more efficient and accessible for the women and children of the world.