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Ray of hope shines on Lamu ‘wretched’ mothers, children

Barry Silah @obel_barry

When Farida Yusuf, a  resident of Siyu village in Pate Island, Lamu county discovered that she was expectant with her fourth child, she was not sure whether to smile or cry.

She was elated because she was bringing forth a new life to the underpopulated Indian Ocean island. But beyond that, uncertainty kept creeping up in her mind; her fate and that of her unborn child.

Her first two deliveries went on fairly well with the help of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) but the third one was a life-threatening experience. She bled profusely and had to be rushed to the hospital to save her life and her baby.

“My husband had no issue (of delivering at home) because our culture does not allow men to deliver women. Besides, most of the women around the island undergo a similar process because they idolise traditional midwives,” says the 33-year-old woman.

Lamu Island, one of the world’s heritage site, also suffers some ironical infamy; worst maternal mortality rate in the country. Statistics show that Lamu is among 15 counties that account for more than  60 per cent  of the country’s maternal and child deaths.

The county’s Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) stands at 676 deaths per 100,000 live births. High maternal and child death rates are linked to uncontrolled births and limited access to life saving interventions. 

And not even the Saidia Mama government initiative, a free delivery programme for  expectant mothers has brought relief in the county is reluctant to embrace  it. The situation is compounded by lack of qualified staff and a dearth of  health centres.

But all that is set to change if efforts by a local social enterprise, Lamu Against Maternal Mortality (Lamam)  succeed. The initiative incorporates conventional medicine with traditional beliefs and practices to improve maternal and child healthcare.

The group focuses on educating expectant mothers and upgrading the skills of traditional birth attendants, who help deliver about two-thirds of Lamu’s babies. 

According to the founder Dr Abubakar Baasba, their efforts to empower the TBAs and educating expectant mothers on safe motherhood is slowly yielding results. “We have had sessions that women speak candidly of their challenges and certainly  some cultural practices are to blame. We try and impart knowledge through effective training,” he says.

Mwanaisha Mwadarasalamu, one of those driving the initiative, has delivered at least 40 births in the Island. For her, it was only a way of  earning a living. 

She charges up to Sh1,000 per delivery. “To some of us, the skill was passed to us by our mothers. We assist the mothers,” says the elderly widow.  Lamam has been a godsend, empowered birth attendants are now referring mothers to hospitals for safe deliveries. “I think the last fatality we had was three years ago because of constant sensitisation,” adds Baasba.

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