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Waiving maternity fees improves prospects for Kenyan women and children

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Thanks to progress in maternal health in Kenya, more babies are getting a better start in life.

By Jabu Tugwana

KWALE, Kenya, 8 January 2007 – New mother Rehema Juma sits impatiently on a small bed in the Maternity Ward at Mswambweni Hospital. Her newborn baby rests on her lap, wrapped in  brightly coloured traditional ‘kikoi’ cloth. For days now, she has been waiting to go home.

“I delivered three days ago, but because I have no money, I have to wait for my mother to come and get me,” said Ms. Juma.

In response to problems such as this, the Kenyan Ministry of Health waived maternity fees in the country’s health centres in July of last year. Professional health services are now accessible to those who cannot afford to pay.

“If I knew about the fee waiver I would have gone to a health centre. I would have been home by now,” said Ms. Juma.

Safer treatment at hospitals

In a country where 1 in 19 mothers dies from complications in pregnancy and childbirth, this new policy promises to significantly reduce maternal and under-five mortality rates.

Unfortunately, few people in rural areas know about the maternity fee waiver. More than half of the women still turn to unskilled birth attendants. Now, health professionals are partnering with community-based workers and volunteers to spread the good news.

“It is better to go to the hospital where you can get better treatment, rather than at home where they cut the umbilical cord with an unsafe tool and you end up having all kinds of infections,” said Mwana-hamisi Matana of Kirudi Village.

Nothing short of a blessing

At Tiwi Rural Health Training Centre, Nursing Officer Halima Hassan has already begun to see a change: “We used to get between 35 to 40 mothers per month. Right now we’ve increased our cases of delivery and we’re reaching up to 60 births per month.”

For many mothers in rual Kenya, the maternity fee waiver is nothing short of a blessing.

“The money that I had intended to use to pay the hospital will now be used to buy new clothes for the newborn baby,” said 22-year-old Miriam Awor from Ukonda Town. “I’ll also buy food because I’ve got children at home.”




UNICEF's Guy Hubbard reports on how mothers are benefitting from the waiving of maternity fees in Kenya.
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