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UNICEF-supported outreach brings free health services to Kenyan families

© UNICEF Kenya/2008/Sittoni
Young mothers in Kenya are taking advantage of UNICEF-supported health care for their infants and children.

By Pamella Sittoni

NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 June 2008 – Agnes Mangolo smiled proudly as she lifted her five-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, off the scale at the clinic at Mbita Primary School in the Kinango district of Kenya’s Coast Province. The nutritionist had just confirmed that the child’s weight was within the recommended levels for her age, and advised the young mother to continue exclusively breastfeeding the baby for one more month before introducing her to other foods.

Closely watching the interaction was the area chief, Chai Mkala, who has mobilized over 300 mothers and fathers to turn up for services at the outreach clinic.

“I heard about today’s clinic and decided to bring my baby. Otherwise, I would have had to go all the way to Ndavaya health centre, which is very far from my home. I heard about this clinic from the chief, who sent a message to the whole village that all parents with children under age five should bring them here today,” said Ms. Mangolo.

Chief sent a message
Some of the other mothers heard about the outreach clinic from their religious leaders, while others heard announcements over the radio.

The clinic at Mbita was organized by the Ndavaya centre to bring child survival services closer to residents. The health centre is 60 km away, and some of these mothers would have had to walk for more than six hours to get there.

The day of Ms. Mangolo’s visit coincided with the end of two weeks of countrywide mobilization for increased utilization of routine child survival services. The initiative, named Malezi Bora (Swahili for 'Good Nurturing'), was adopted by the Ministry of Health last year, in partnership with the World Health Organization, to address poor child survival indicators in Kenya.

According to the latest edition of UNICEF's 'The State of the World's Children', Kenya’s under-five mortality rate is 121 deaths per 1,000 live births.

All the services are available
“Before, we used to organize specific campaigns to immunize children, or to give them vitamin A supplements. But these campaigns were very expensive and unsustainable. With Malezi Bora, all the needed services are available at the health centre or hospital,” says the District Medical Officer Dr. Swaleh Shahbal.

The Ministry of Health allocates two-week periods twice a year to focus the country’s attention on child survival, by declaring these periods 'Malezi Bora Weeks'. This year, the first two weeks were from 19 to 31 May – during which time parents were encouraged to take all children under age five to health centres and hospitals for immunizations, growth monitoring, vitamin A supplements and de-worming.

Parents also received an insecticide-treated mosquito net for protection from malaria, a major killer of children in Kenya. All of these services were provided free of charge.

Challenge to the media
UNICEF is supporting the Malezi Bora social mobilization effort and working closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure that drugs and equipment are readily available.

Malezi Bora was launched by the head of the newly created Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, Beth Mugo, at a highly publicized event also attended by UNICEF’s acting Deputy Representative in Kenya, Rajeshwari Chandrasekar, and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Dr. James Nyikal.

UNICEF Representative in Kenya Dr. Olivia Yambi challenged the media to send out the right messages on nurturing children.

'Mobilization has been more intense'
UNICEF also has begun working with another important group of partners, Kenya’s religious leaders. Under the auspices of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, the leaders used their influence to ask Kenyans of all faiths to visit health facilities, both during the Malezi Bora weeks and afterwards.

“This year, mobilization has been more intense because of the partnership with both religious and community leaders, and our other local partners,” said Dr. Shahbal. “It is easier for people to believe what the religious leaders tell them because they know and trust them. The partnership with religious leaders is very important for Malezi Bora’s success.”







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