Build resilient communities to improve maternal and child health in Kenya
Building resilient communities in Kenya can reduce maternal and child mortalities. Strengthening and promoting local healthcare systems has the potential to improve community’s ability to combat, adapt to and recover from health-related adversities.
Resilient communities are sustainable communities. They are mindful of the present and the future of their generations.
They use locally available assets to build strong physical, behavioral and social health and wellness that cannot be shaken even when disasters such as drought hit.
However, it is not easy to harness those resources to benefit the community without a set of diverse skills and knowledge that many households and individuals may not readily have.
When development partners, particularly the county government, the national government, community organizations and community leaders and members work together to enhance community resilience, expanding the community’s traditional preparedness and developing programs that strengthen local health systems become a shared goal to address emerging threats.
For a long time, rural and marginalized communities in Kenya, which embody vulnerable households and individuals, have lived with minimal preparedness to preserve human health and welfare in the face of ever-changing dangers. When acute conditions or large-scale disasters explode, these communities have inevitably suffered a great deal.
Baringo County is one of the rural and marginalized areas in Kenya that require immediate response to build community resilience to cope with the myriad challenges affecting health, such as undernutrition, high maternal and child deaths, drought, low literacy levels and poor health infrastructure.
Like the populations living in urban centers, the residents of rural areas such as Baringo have a right to access quality primary health care services. It is disheartening that they have to travel over 50KM to access health services.
A Population Reference Bureau report released in 2019 shows that at least 60% of the Baringo population is under the age of 20 and less than half of the school-age children are enrolled in secondary schools.
Baringo County also has a higher maternal mortality rate than the rest of Kenya. Communities living in the county have 488 deaths per 100,000 births while Kenya as a whole witnesses 374 deaths per 100,000 live births. The higher number of mothers and children dying in the region reflect less resilient communities to prevent or respond to recurring and new health problems.
Indeed development partners working with Baringo-based communities should pay attention to strengthening and promoting access to quality primary healthcare services, education, nutrition and water.
Due to climate change, drought has weakened the community health systems in Baringo County. Livestock that has been the source of livelihood for the pastoralist Pokot community has greatly diminished as pastures depleted.
It is exceedingly devastating that cases of undernutrition, anemia and dietary-related deaths have spiraled in Baringo. Community health workers based in the area worry that if the health challenges continue to escalate, more lives will be lost and recovery will become more difficult in the future.
“In this region, you cannot find educated people easily and when you talk about healthcare services, most of them do not understand what you’re talking about,” Wilfred Kayii, a community health volunteer in Baringo talks about health challenges in the area.
As one of the development stakeholders in Baringo County, MAMA trains and equips traditional birth attendants (TBAs) and community health volunteers (CHVs) to provide safe childbirths and encourage mothers to deliver their babies in health clinics.
The community organization that has been working with the Pokot community in Orus area, Baringo since 2017, is also building a maternity unity and health resource center to provide quality and safe maternity and primary care services to the residents.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with other organizations in areas such as water. Water has been such a huge problem in East Pokot (in Baringo) and has contributed largely to poor health outcomes within the community. Another area we’re seeking collaboration is education. We believe education will transform the community and different generations,” says Winnie Chelagat, Co-Founder of MAMA.
MAMA’s holistic approach to strengthening all areas affecting community health as a way of promoting maternal and child health demonstrates a deliberate effort to build community resilience.
The community organization has active projects and programs in education, health infrastructure, economic empowerment and sustainability. Beekeeping, kitchen gardens, maternity unit and health resource center, and training of TBAs and CHVs projects all intersect in strengthening community resilience.
Article by David Njiru
David is a Communications Officer at MAMA, a proficient storyteller and digital communications specialist