Providing integrated outreach services in Marsabit County
Helping drought affected communities access essential health services
UNICEF partnered with the Marsabit County Department of Health and Kenya Red Cross Society to implement rapid life-saving health services in response to the protracted drought emergency and effects of COVID-19 in Marsabit from May 2021 to the end of July 2022.
During this period, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Health to conduct integrated outreach efforts targeting hard-to-reach children under the age of 18 years, as well as women and men, left highly vulnerable as a result of the protracted drought emergency
The integrated life-saving interventions delivered during outreach services included immunization, nutrition monitoring and management, treatment of minor illnesses, antenatal care for pregnant women, referral of severely ill members of the community to higher level health facilities for specialized treatment, and dissemination of disease prevention messages, including awareness about COVID-19.
Ntubulan Orguba, a 35-year-old mother of six from Loisosu Village, North Horr Sub-county in Marsabit County, gave birth to a boy in January 2021. Unfortunately, at the same time Ntubulan was caring for the infant, a severe drought was pushing thousands of households towards hunger.
Following rainfall shortages, the local community was being affected by food shortages, posing serious health and nutrition challenges to young children, who were vulnerable to malnutrition. In Marsabit County, food insecurity due to recurrent drought coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic denied needy households access to quality essential health services, and a healthy diet. For example, Ntubulan had difficulty putting food on the table for her family. The lack of an adequate diet also affected Ntubulan’s milk supply and her newborn suffered from malnutrition.
Not only was the drought impacting households, it was putting additional strain on over-stretched essential health services and healthcare workers, especially during the peaks of outbreaks. This forced mothers such as Ntubulan to depend on traditional medicines and other coping mechanisms which have poor results.
“The devastating drought destabilized my well-being and made life unbearable. I could not afford to travel long distances to a health facility to have my children vaccinated and treated whenever they fell ill,” says Ntubulan Orguba.
“The fear of contracting COVID-19 also made me stop visiting the hospital. Each time my son got sick, I would treat him using traditional herbs which did not prevent his weight loss.”
“My household was rescued by community health volunteers who brought health services to my doorstep. I took all my six children for a check-up as well as receiving immunization. My son who is 1 year old was screened and identified to have acute malnutrition, and was vaccinated and also provided with supplements. I was also reminded of my return date for the next vaccination sessions, and how to feed my household with healthy meals and knowledge on monitoring of acute malnutrition using the Family Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC). The Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) also advised me on key household practices to prevent my family from getting COVID-19, and advised us where to receive vaccination. All these protected my households against the virus,” affirmed Ntubulan.
Support to beneficiaries
To combat the humanitarian situation, relief agencies are implementing integrated medical outreach, identification, site management and referral, bringing about positive changes. Support referrals during the outreaches have saved lives and follow ups have improved the nutrition status of children.
For Ntubulan, her child’s health has improved compared to his initial status. Changes have been witnessed in her baby’s ability to feed and pass stool properly. His improved skin, alertness and happiness have also brought hope.
Integrated health services are key to identifying and meeting community health and well-being. The UNICEF and Ministry of Health's integrated health outreach efforts, implemented by Kenya Red Cross, effectively contributed to improved access to cost-effective services and increased referrals. These efforts have helped to reduce the number of morbidity cases reported at the community level. Knowledge provided at the hospital and during outreach efforts on sanitation and hygiene, good feeding practices and health-seeking behavior has had a positive impact.