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Why do so many women still die in childbirth?

While it is hard to fathom, women, even the elite still die from childbirth-related causes, Betty Muindi finds out why

The death of a woman during pregnancy, at delivery, or soon after delivery is always a tragedy for her family and for society as a whole. Sadly, these cases have been common in the recent months. In May this year, Druscillah Walowe, popularly known as Dru Sonko, died shortly after giving birth at Aga Khan Hospital, Mombasa.

A young and vibrant mother, Dru died moments after giving birth through an emergency C-section. Dru is reported to have suffered a system failure. Her body was unable to create any platelets following weak brain signals to the rest of her organs.

Just two weeks ago, Alice Maina died following complications after giving birth to triplets. Her health started deteriorating after giving birth and seven days later she passed on at Mater Hospital.

Matter of concern

Despite efforts by the government in making delivery free at public hospitals and the First Lady’s Margaret Kenyatta, Beyond Zero Campaign, it is a matter of concern that women are still dying while giving birth.

Why are mothers dying, more so in urban areas where access to quality health care and medical facilities is expected to be easy? Why does this still happen even with availability of advanced technology in medicine?

Dr Kizito Lubano, an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Nairobi, says this is due to a number of factors. One is the upsurge in population, yet, our health systems have not evolved proportionate to the demand.

According to UN projections, Kenya’s population grows by around one million per year, yet medical interventions such as equipment and personnel have remained the same. Kizito further notes that some health facilities, which claim to offer maternity services do not have necessary equipment or trained practitioners who can handle emergency situations.

“A healthy woman can come in with no signs she is at risk. And then it happens in a flash! The unpredictable nature of postpartum haemorrhaging or high blood pressure, some of the many complications that can happen in the process or after a child is born.

If a health care centre or provider cannot handle these emergencies, the mother might just die in a span of just a few minutes,” he says. Also, obesity as well as the effects of environmental pollution in urban areas could be factors contributing to these complications that can be fatal.

Dr Kizito also lists lack of access to quality care as major contributor to increased mortality rates. “Yes, we have free services for mothers who deliver at public hospitals, but, what is the quality of the services? There has been unrest in the health sector in the past few months. How are the patients going to receive quality care?” poses Dy Kizito.


A honorary lecturer at the University of Nairobi, School of Medicine, Dr Kizito also faults the quality of training of service providers and weak regulatory frameworks in higher education institutions, which in turn is producing unqualified professionals. Also, most products used at these hospitals including the renowned hospitals are counterfeit.

“Papers are not everything, quality of education is. Many medical graduates cannot handle it when something goes wrong during delivery. Add to it counterfeit pharmaceuticals, it is a disaster,” he notes.

An increase in some complications such as severe bleeding, eclampsia and infections, he says, are some of the leading causes of maternal deaths. City gynaecologist, Dr Isaac Wasike concurs a working health system with skilled personnel is key.

Wasike further notes delay in reporting to hospital in case of a complication before or after giving birth as well as pure negligence by health providers are to blame for death of new mothers.

“Some health providers do not take time to study the medical history or check the woman’s blood pressure. The woman could be anaemic or sick to start with, so they are at high risk of dying,” he says adding: “It is important, therefore, for a pregnant mother to seek the care of a professional. This helps to pick up risks early on and can be used to ensure you receive the right level of care when giving birth.”

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