Reprieve for Turkana Indigenous Women as Charity Firm Provides Maternity Clinic
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Cases of high infant mortality and maternal deaths among indigenous Turkana people could soon gradually decline as charitable and nongovernmental organizations partner to provide maternal health care.
Photo: Turkana woman with her three chikldren. Credit: Shadrack Kavilu.
Safaricom foundation, the Corporate Social Investment arm of
Safaricom Limited one of the largest telecommunication firms in the country has
partnered with Turkana Basin Institute, a research based institution to
construct a maternity clinic in the remote village of Loreng’elup in Turkana
The health project is part of an initiative by the private
sector aimed at complimenting the government’s efforts towards the achievement
of the UN Millennium Development Goals of eradicating poverty and ensuring
indigenous and marginalized people gain access to health care facilities.
Though public health remains a
major concern in Kenya with communicable diseases still
crippling large numbers of Kenya’s population
as well as high infant and maternal
mortality, indigenous people are most
vulnerable to diseases as they lack health care facilities.
The maternal clinic will serve an estimated population of
1,000 women of childbearing age who for years have had to walk hundreds of
kilometers to access a public health center.
According to a recent country Human
Development Report, infant and maternal mortality rates are highest in the
poorer regions, and huge disparities exist between urban and rural areas.
Under-five mortality rates are 26 percent higher
in rural areas including Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL) which are mostly inhabited
by indigenous people.
ASALs have the highest
levels of food poverty in Kenya due to persistent droughts, and people
occupying these areas have the lowest access to health and social services.
Though there are no data specific to the health
of indigenous peoples in the report, disaggregate data show that child
mortality is highest in Nyanza and Northeastern provinces, where there are
large populations of indigenous people.
Ang’elei, the programme coordinator for Turkana Basin Institute says that the
construction of the health clinic would significantly reduce the high rate of
infant and maternal deaths among the indigenous Turkana people.
She said that hug efforts
are needed to reduce infant mortality rates, particularly in ASALs, where HIV/
AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases are rife and are a
constant threat to young children with still developing immune systems living
in abject poverty with little or no health care at their disposal.
The programme coordinator
noted that due to poor road infrastructure, marginalization and the rampant
cattle rustling in the area, Turkana mothers lack specialized attention to
complications at birth as in most cases they rely on traditional birth
attendants for assistance during ante-natal, labor, delivery and post-natal
phases which result to infant and maternal deaths.
Ang’elei attributes the high infant rate and maternal deaths
to poor nutrition, limited access to health care and lack of resources crucial
to maintaining health and well being and contamination of natural resources.
While commissioning the project, Mr. Les Baillie, Chairman,
Safaricom Foundation noted that the maternity clinic, besides complementing
global efforts to reduce mortality rates, it is also in line with Kenya’s
development agenda of providing an efficient and high quality health care
system with the best standards.
“This project will help raise standards of delivery in this area thus help save
more lives of both mothers and newborns,” said Mr. Baillie.
Globally, it is estimated that up to 358, 000 women die each year in pregnancy
The World Health Organization (WHO) also estimates that 7.6
million children under five died in 2010. Between1960-1990, child mortality in
developing regions was halved to one child in 10 dying before the age of five.
Through the Millennium Development Goals, WHO strives to reduce under five
child mortality rates by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and reducing
maternal mortality by three quarters over the same period.
Some of WHO’s
strategies to reduce infant mortality include providing timely treatment of
complications for newborns and integrating management of childhood illness for
all children under five years old. On the other hand, ensuring that quality
services are provided in health facilities will help reduce the number of women
deaths at childbirth.
According to a recent UN report, the first ever to document
thestate of the worlds indigenous
people on health it is estimated that roughly
350 million indigenous peoples suffer from disproportionately, often exponentially, higher rates of
poverty, health problems, crime and human rights abuses.
The report noted that Indigenous people experience
disproportionately high levels of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition,
cardiovascular illnesses, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases such as
malaria and tuberculosis (TB).
The report illustrated that Indigenous peoples’ life
expectancy is up to 20 years lower than their non-indigenous counterparts.
The Safaricom foundation project is one of many concerted
efforts made by the private sector meant to compliment the government fast
track the achievement of UN millennium development goals on health.
Previously, the Safaricom Foundation has helped improve
access to healthcare services within Turkana County by holding free medical
camps that saw thousands of patients benefit from free medical care.
The latest camp was in November 2011 and was held in partnership
with Kenya Diabetes Management and Information Centre (DMI).
During the same year, the Foundation also supported an orthopaedic medical camp
in Lokichar Location, together with AIC Cure Hospital where patients with
physical disabilities were fitted with artificial limbs.
Illustration: Map of Turkana homeland in Kenya.
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi