Millions of women and children in Kenya are at risk of death due to the most severe drought experienced in four decades, the United Nation reported in January 2023. The drought has forced families to migrate away from health facilities in search of food and water, which means the rate of skilled birth attendance has reduced, increasing the risk of maternal mortality. Kenya’s maternal rate is 342 mothers per 100,000 live births and could increase due to the drought’s impacts. The United Nations Population Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) created an innovative motorbike emergency ambulance service to reduce maternal deaths in Kenya. Furthermore, the World Food Programme (WFP) partnered with the national government to provide various aid services to women and children in the most vulnerable regions, thus, minimizing the impact of Kenya’s drought on the population’s health.
The Long Drought
Before Kenya’s drought, health facilities in Kenya supported an average of 411 births per month, which amounts to a 70% skilled birth attendance rate. However, deliveries at these facilities drastically decreased to 100 per month by November 2022, equating to a 24.6% skilled birth attendance rate. A lack of skilled maternal care via trained professionals contributes to Kenya’s high maternal mortality rate.
Regardless of technological advances, Kenya consistently maintains a high maternal mortality rate. The government of Kenya has made efforts to train more health care professionals, but low-income people located in rural areas must still undertake arduous journeys to health centers due to the country’s complex geographical layout. Access to timely and routine health checkups at a closely located health facility is out of reach for many pregnant women in rural areas.
The drought has caused severe nutritional concerns for children and pregnant women due to food shortages. In particular, the drought has led to the deaths of 1.5 million livestock, which served as a primary source of food and income. By July 2022, more than 9,000 Kenyan children under 5 and 135,000 pregnant/nursing mothers suffered acute malnourishment.
The UNFPA and the WFP
The UNFPA created an emergency motorbike program, operational since November 2022, that transports pregnant women to health centers and significantly reduces the delivery time of emergency medical supplies. In the past, some pregnant women in rural Kenya delivered on the side of the road as they could not reach a health facility in time. The emergency motorbike ambulance program aims to help about 135,000 pregnant women/new mothers in Kenya who have difficulty accessing essential health care.
The UNFPA provides reproductive health care services every two weeks to 15-20 pregnant women in the most rural parts of the country. Furthermore, the UNFPA also provides nutritional and immunization services to these communities. To continue its critical work amid Kenya’s drought, the UNFPA is appealing for $113.7 million to finance its Response Plan for the Horn of Africa Drought Crisis 2022-2023, with particular emphasis on supporting women and children in Kenya.
Amid the drought, in July 2022, the WFP partnered with Kenya’s government to transfer emergency cash and food to 19,000 families and implemented resilience programs to support more than 300,000 people. Moreover, the WFP also appealed for $130 million more to expand the aid to further families. The call for extra funding aimed to “cover food and cash for 960,000 and blanket supplementary feeding for 486,000 children and 122,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women in the worst affected counties.”
Kenya’s drought directly threatens the health of pregnant women and children in Kenya. However, by establishing programs and funding to increase access to health care and nutrition, the UNFPA and the WFP are providing life-saving services. The work of these intergovernmental organizations improves countries’ health, leading to more prosperity worldwide.
– Andres Valencia