Investing in Health Systems and Providers = Investing in Women

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By: Charity Ndwiga, Program Officer, Population Council

Women deserve to receive high-quality care and support during pregnancy and childbirth, which can be times of intense vulnerability for them. When women give birth with the assistance of skilled professionals at properly equipped healthcare facilities, they are at much lower risk of complications, including death, disease, and disability.

Yet today, just four in 10 women in Kenya deliver in health facilities. And when they do, they find that public and private hospitals often are unprepared to provide the level of service women require and deserve, including respectful maternity care.

Today, Kenya’s healthcare system faces a major unaddressed challenge, namely, how to reform a system characterized by insufficient and poor organization of resources and other inefficiencies that negatively affect women seeking skilled delivery care. Addressing these challenges will require government investment in facilities and equipment and procuring and distributing essential medicines and supplies.

But equipping facilities is just one part of the equation. Ensuring that healthcare staff know how to provide equitable and respectful patient-centered care during childbirth is another. In addition to improving infrastructure and procedures, healthcare systems must recruit qualified staff and ensure they are effectively trained and deployed. If healthcare providers can learn how to support women during pregnancy and childbirth, teach women how to take care of their newborns, and reinforce women’s confidence and self-esteem, the health status of individuals, families, and communities will improve.

The Population Council—working with the Ministry of Health, the Federation of Women Lawyers, and the National Nurses Association of Kenya—is changing the way healthcare providers think about quality maternity care. Working with communities, health facilities, and policymakers, the Council and its partners have documented the types and prevalence of disrespect women experience at hospitals and health centers in Kenya and are implementing and closely monitoring interventions to improve the quality of maternity care women receive.

From developing training packages on respectful maternity care and offering group and individual counseling sessions to all staff who work in maternity units to promoting maternity open days when pregnant women and their families can visit the place where they will deliver their babies and meet the staff who will care for them, the Council and its partners are devising solutions that will create a culture of excellence where respect for patients is the norm.

For more on the Population Council’s work to reduce disrespect and abuse during labor and delivery in healthcare facilities in Kenya, visit the Heshima Project. To read more posts in the respectful maternity care guest blog series, click here.