Death in Birth: Pregnant women bear brunt of Alshabaab in Lamu

A traditional birth attendant attending to a pregnant woman. Lamu women now have a maternal health shelter to help reduce the number of deaths during child birth. /COURTESY

Lamu,KENYA:Hawa Shebwana considers herself lucky.

Sitting in the small village of Ishakani in Lamu county near the border with Somalia, Hawa has carried three pregnancies to term without attending a prenatal clinic.

However many of Hawa’s neighbors have not been as lucky as she is, in a county ranked as having the highest % of maternal deaths in Kenya.

“The unfortunate thing is that many women who risk doing this die along the way. I was lucky to have done that thrice and survived. We need the ante-natal clinics but we cant reach them so most of the time, we just go without them,” Hawa Explains.

The bad roads do not help the situation.

“We are forced to give birth at home too. Our roads are so bad you cant ferry a pregnant woman on them and expect her to reach the dispensaries safe,” she added.

In most cases, the women are forced to turn to unqualified herbalists for assistance during birth.

Communities living along the border villages of Kiunga, Ishakani, Mkokoni, Madina and Basuba have long complained about the poor state of healthcare in the region.

The Alshabaab insurgency which saw the militants from neighboring Somalia make the Boni forest their permanent home, has only worsened the situation.

Health centres have become a major target of the militants who loot medicines and medical supplies from the centres and at times torch the facilities whenever they strike.

Health workers who used to work in these places have so far fled for their lives and many vowed never to return.

According to a June 2017 research conducted by the African Institute For Policy Development in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund, Lamu county is one of the 15 counties in Kenya that account for 60% of the martenal deaths in the country.

The research further estimated the rate to be 676 deaths for every 100,000 births in the county.

Ferdau Sharif, a social worker in the region, says most of the women are dying due to avoidable complications.

Sharif says the few dispensaries in the area are located kilometers away and that pregnant women have to trek for long hours before they can reach medical care.

“In Kiunga for instance,there is only one dispensary that tends to the entire division so you can imagine the immense population coming from all over to seek medical care. The workers are also few. We are now concerned about the number of pregnant women who died before reaching us or after reaching us later than they should have. The situation is not good,”said Sharif.

Earlier in the year Kenya Defence Forces officers, who are part of the operation Linda Boni meant to flush out militants from the forest, started offering free medical services in some medical camps every Monday and Wednesday, however, that has had little impact on pregnant mothers as most of the cases require complex attention.

“We have dispatched a medical services team from the KDF to areas like Kotile and Masalani. We issued referrals for cases we couldn’t handle,” Assistant Inspector-General and Police Commander in charge of the operation Douglas Kirocho told Baraka FM in February.