Every two hours in Kenya, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Quite unfortunate.
A new report on maternal health in Kenya has further amplified the devastating impact of a mother’s death on her family and in her community. The study, titled: ‘Price Too High to Bear’, reveals that that the unfortunate deaths of these women (mostly preventable), gravely affect her immediate family, the survival of her newborn, the health and opportunities of her surviving children, as well as the economic productivity of her family and her community.
The report by Family Care International (FCI), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and the KEMRI/CDC Research and Public Health Collaboration in cooperation with Kenya’s Ministry of Health highlights the financial costs of the deaths of mothers in poor remote communities on their households, as well as the impact of these costs on family well-being.
The loss of a mother harms her surviving family members, her children’s health, education, and future opportunities.
The report states that of the 59 maternal deaths in the study, 14 women died during the last three months of pregnancy, one died during labour, and 44 died post-delivery. It is also important to note that over 70% of the maternal deaths occurred in the course of a normal delivery, while the remaining ones who died had experienced a caesarean section, use of forceps, or other intervention during delivery.
The link between maternal death and high neonatal mortality was also demonstrated:
Of the 59 women who died, 31 infants survived delivery. Of these, 8 died in the first week of life, with another 8 dying in the next several weeks. This left a total of only 15 surviving babies from 59 pregnancies.
In most of the households, the women who died used to carry out various tasks in their homes. These women used to contribute an average of 61 hours of household work each week, with tasks including; childcare, cooking, laundry, and fetching water and firewood. Following their deaths, the women’s husbands, mothers-in-law, older children, or other surviving family members had to pick up the slack, with 88% of families reporting that this had reduced these members’ ability to contribute earnings to household income.
Some of the deceased women were also involved in farming. For these, their deaths in some cases forced the household to allow land to lie fallow, or to cultivate fewer crops. Some families indicated that they had lost crops after the death of the woman, because surviving household members were not able to allocate to farming the time they had when the woman was alive.
For the surviving school-going children, they were in some cases withdrawn from or forced to miss school, because economic disruptions made it difficult to afford school fees. The household could no longer afford to pay the school fees, because the mother’s income was not available any more. Even when there was some money, it was used to hire casual farm labour.
Where children continued their schooling, often their grief and new household responsibilities negatively affected their schoolwork. In a number of cases, families reported that children withdrew from school altogether. Others who remained in school often had less time for schoolwork — and less time to actually attend school due to the additional household chores and because they had to take care of their younger siblings.
Social, emotional and other non-economic consequences
In many parts of Western Kenya –where the study took place, a ‘household’ is made up of all those who eat under the same roof. Before the mother’s death, majority of individuals in the household ate in the woman’s home. But after she died, only about a quarter of individuals from her household continued eating in her house. Of those who changed where they had their meals (most of them children aged below 18 years), they said they did so because of the death of the mother. In most cases, children began taking meals in the home of their grandmother. Other children were removed from household and given out to relatives for foster care.
When a woman dies, her funeral costs are a crippling hardship for her family.
Funerals are a big deal in Africa, and Kenya is no exception. Many communities strive to give their departed relatives a ‘grand, respectable’ send off which could see them spend huge amounts of money. Across all wealth levels of households interviewed, families’ funeral costs exceeded their total annual expenditure on food, housing, and all other household consumption. On average, economically active members took a month off from work during the funeral period. Given the already high costs of the funeral, this lack of economic activity is an additional burden for the household.
Those are just some of the key findings of the study. Indeed, it only goes to show that Kenya continues to have a high maternal mortality rate, despite commitment from the government to address the issue. It only means that the country needs to pull up its socks in reducing maternal mortality rates. Meanwhile, 2015 is just around the corner, and I wonder if my country will be able to achieve MDG5, that of reducing maternal mortality.
I can only hope for the best.