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Lack of concurrence between policy and practice is a serious blow to achievement of MDG5 in Kenya

What holds Kenya back in its efforts to achieve MDG 5 is staring us in the face. We just need to look and see the many areas of non-concurrence between policy and practice, for example, while on the one hand the policy is that of equitable access to RH services, in practice on the other hand, many Kenyans, especially those living in marginalized far-flung areas, have nothing close to equitable access to such RH services. This also applies to the poor irrespective of where they reside.

Among the earlier posts by Africa Health Dialogue there was one entitled “What’s in the way of achieving improved maternal health in Kenya?” in which three key barriers to attainment of improved maternal health in Kenya were discussed: the lack of equity in health planning and implementation; inadequacy of funding to the health sector; and inequitable distribution of resources for health especially financial and human resources.

Since the publication of that post, a lot has changed: first, the urgency of the matter in consideration is much greater now- there is much less time left to 2015; secondly, Kenya now has a Constitution that is specific in its provision of health as a basic right. Article 43 (1) (a) states:  “Every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care”. The constitution is not saying that only the urban rich and those living in the more accessible counties have the right to the “highest attainable standard of health”. No, it is all Kenyans, wherever they may be!

In addition, we also have a National Reproductive Health Policy (2007) with its stated goal of enhancing the RH status of all Kenyans by (among others) increasing equitable access to RH services and improving responsiveness to client needs. According to the Policy all pregnant women should have access to skilled care throughout the continuum of pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal periods. Skilled attendance implies access to appropriately trained health providers whether in a health facility or through domiciliary care. It also implies access to a rapid means of referral to a higher level of care in case of an emergency. In consideration of the above, at least three questions immediately arise: (a) to what extent are maternal health services equitable; (b) are the current health interventions responsive to client needs and (c) how accessible is skilled attendance by all pregnant women in Kenya?

Review of maternal health indicators as published in successive national surveys, such as the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) and the Kenya Service Provision Assessment Survey (KSPA), shows that health services are far from being equitably distributed in Kenya. Women from the more marginal areas which are lacking in communication infrastructure, especially roads, and those who are in the lower socio-economic strata, are all grossly disadvantaged. In fact, these are the women who register the worst maternal health indicators (whether it be maternal mortality ratio, contraceptive prevalence rate, total fertility rate, attendance by a skilled health professional; or availability and quality of antenatal and delivery services in local health facilities, etc. etc. Unfortunately, forgetting them is not an option; Kenya will never achieve MDG5 without their contribution! That’s the way it is.

In many parts of Kenya it’s nightmarish ferrying a woman in labour to a health facility.

CASE STUDY: The following narrative is based on a true event which took place in eastern part of Mwingi in the Kitui County:

Kavata was a married mother of three, all normal deliveries at home assisted by a TBA from the neighbourhood. During her fourth pregnancy she had attended an antenatal clinic at a dispensary, beginning from the sixth month. She made a total of three antenatal clinic visits before she went into labour. At the clinic she had been advised that even though her pregnancy was progressing satisfactorily, she needed to ensure that this time round she delivered at a health centre because of her history of heavy bleeding during her last delivery. The health centre, located about 15km from her home, had only one qualified midwife, who also had other duties apart from midwifery.

Kavata went in labour at night but could not get to the health centre at that hour; the only matatu in the area made the trip twice a day, early in the morning and early in the afternoon. Walking at that time was out of the question for fear of marauding wild animals and muggers in the area. So, at 6am next day she was in the matatus heading for the health centre where she arrived at 9am. However, she could not be admitted immediately to the maternity ward because the midwife had not reported to work until 10am.

By 2pm the midwife observing that labour was not progressing normally radioed the District Hospital located about 80km away, requesting for an ambulance to transfer the patient for more specialized care. This was not possible – the only functional land rover at the hospital had travelled to Nairobi to fetch supplies. Now the only transport option available at that time for Kavata was a ride at the back of a lorry, perched on top of cowpea bags. The lorry made several stops collecting more bags on the way. By the time Kavata arrived at the District Hospital her uterus had already ruptured and she had bled profusely. Her baby had already died; she too died before anything could be done to save her life.

The big question is “Was Kavata and the many other women who are continually going her way, also expected to enjoy the “right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care”? Is there concurrence between policy and practice: on the one hand the policy is that of equitable access to RH services, but on the other hand, in practice people like the late Kavata and many others have nothing close to equitable access to such services?

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Forgetting Them Is Not An Option

Is it possible to achieve the health related MDGs without a special focus on the health status of the poor, the marginalized and the hard-to reach in Kenya?

The Government of Kenya being signatory to the Millennium Declaration is obliged to put in place measures for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While only three of the eight MDGs relate directly to health, all others have important direct effects on health considering the interrelationship between health and development in general. The core health MDGs are Reducing Child Mortality (MDG4), Improve Maternal Health (MDG5), and Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases (MDG6).

Achieving the health related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be possible without a special focus on the health status of the poor, the marginalized and the hard-to reach in Kenya. This post examines the evidence to support this position utilising findings from the 2008-9 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), with regard to the following selected indicators: Under-five mortality rate (MDG4.1); Percent births attended by skilled attendant (MDG5.2); Contraceptive prevalence rate (MDG5.3); and Unmet need for family planning (MDG5.6).

Analysis of the data on the various health indicators shows vast disparities exist based on socio-economic status and the area of residence (see Table 1). These disparities have persisted in results of successive national surveys over the last three decades. Generally, the national average statistic is used in reports regarding achievement of goals (national or international). However, such data is not particularly useful when it comes to designing interventions to improve on the health indicators, since it fails to direct attention to where greatest need for intervention exists.

Under-5 Mortality Rate (MDG4.1): Nationally there has been significant improvement in child survival in the last decade which could be attributed at least in part to childhood immunization coverage and malaria prevention interventions. However, analysis of the data by region shows there are areas in this country where child mortality rates remain very high. Whereas there was a 28 percent reduction in under-five mortality rate in Nyanza from 206 deaths per 1,000 reported in 2003 to 149 deaths per 1,000 in 2008/9, the region remains the place with the highest child mortality rate in Kenya. Almost one in seven children in Nyanza dies before attaining his or her fifth birthday, compared with one in 20 children in Central province (51 deaths per 1,000), which has the lowest rate. The risk of dying before age five is almost three times higher in Nyanza than in Central province.

The other variables shown in Table 1 which influence child survival are mother’s level of education and household wealth status. Under-five mortality is noticeably lower for children whose mothers either completed primary school (68 deaths per 1,000 live births) or attended secondary school (59 deaths per 1,000 live births) than among those whose mothers have no education (86 deaths per 1,000 live births). However, under-five mortality is highest among children whose mothers have incomplete primary education. Similar patterns are observed for infant mortality levels (not shown). Child mortality rates generally decline as the wealth quintile increases, though the pattern is not uniform.

Skilled attendance at delivery (MDG5.2): The policy of the Ministry of Health as stated in the National Reproductive Health Policy (2007) is that all women should have access to skilled attendance throughout the continuum of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum periods, and that the Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) is no longer recognised as a skilled attendant. Overall, the data shows that only 44 percent of births in Kenya are delivered under the supervision of a skilled birth attendant, usually a nurse or midwife, and that TBAs continue to play a vital role in providing delivery services. Almost 28 percent of births were assisted by TBAs, the same percentage as were assisted by nurses and midwives. As expected, births in urban areas and births to mothers who have more education or wealth are more likely to be assisted by medical personnel than are those births to mothers who reside in rural areas or who have less education or wealth. Regional differentials in type of assistance at delivery are also pronounced, with Western province recording the lowest proportion (26 percent) of births assisted by medical professionals, followed by North Eastern province (32 percent). Nairobi has the highest proportion of births assisted by medical personnel (89 percent).

Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (MDG5.3): Married women in urban areas are more likely to use a contraceptive (53 percent) than their rural counterparts (43 percent). Contraceptive use increases dramatically with increasing level of education. Use of any contraceptive methods rises from 20 percent among married women in the lowest wealth quintile to 57 percent among those in the fourth wealth quintile, and then drops off slightly for those in the highest wealth quintile. The North Eastern Province had the lowest CPR of 4 percent.

Unmet need for FP (MDG5.6): Levels of unmet need for family planning remain high among Kenyan women, with nearly a quarter (26%) of currently married women indicating that they have unmet need for family planning. Unmet need for family planning is higher in rural areas (27 percent) than in urban areas (20 percent). Nyanza province has the highest percentage of married women with an unmet need for family planning (32 percent), followed by Rift Valley province (31 percent), while Nairobi, North Eastern, and Central provinces have the lowest unmet need at 15-16 percent. Married women with incomplete primary education have the highest unmet need for family planning (33 percent) compared with those with completed primary education (27 percent), no education (26 percent), and secondary and higher education (17 percent). Unmet need declines steadily as wealth increases, from 38 percent of married women in the lowest quintile to 19 percent of those in the highest quintile.

What we learn from these findings in KDHS is that vast disparities persist according to spatial distribution and socio-economic strata of the populations; this implies that we cannot achieve health related MDGs without bringing on board all including the poor and marginalized groups. Forgetting them is not an option! The GOK needs to openly recognise that achievement of MDGs will remain an illusion so long as current disparities in access to health care persist. There needs to be concordance between policy statements of equity and practice; commensurate allocation according to need. Hopefully the devolved county governments will make use of disaggregated data in their planning and budgetary processes, and ensure equitable access to health care for all.

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