High-quality Maternal and Newborn Health Care Starts with Health Workers

Students gather around David Cheruiyot (second from right), a clinical instructor at Tenwek School of Nursing, as he trains nurses from other hospitals around the country on techniques for dealing with maternal and newborn complications. Photo: Trevor Snapp for IntraHealth International

When my team comes to work each day at the IntraHealth International office in Nairobi, we focus on strengthening Kenya’s health workforce. This may include human resource management, improving and linking pre-service and in-service training for health workers, reducing bureaucratic obstacles to efficient and equitable hiring processes, or helping the Ministry of Health use HR data to make decisions and advocate for the budget it needs to hire and train more health workers.

On any given day, I may work with Government of Kenya officials, donors, public health specialists, technologists, social entrepreneurs, or health workers. Except for family gatherings and visits to health clinics, I don’t get to interact with many mothers or babies.

But when I read my organization’s new 2013 annual report, I was reminded of three things.

First, our work in Kenya fits into a larger picture of global change and impact. I am proud of Kenya’s contribution to the 178,000 health workers worldwide that IntraHealth reached last year.

Second, our work isn’t ultimately about innovating to improve education and training or improving workforce planning. It’s about bringing high-quality health care to the 356 million people—including millions of mothers and babies—who visited those health workers IntraHealth reached last year.

Finally, I’m reminded that behind these big numbers are individuals.

Individuals are behind the training program we developed at Tenwek Hospital in 2013, as featured in the report. Our FunzoKenya project partnered with the high-achieving hospital to serve as a training center for health workers throughout the district, many of whom work in underserved rural communities. This model provides hands-on training and experience with clients that can be hard to acquire or to simulate.

As I look through photographs of those health workers, students, mothers, and newborns, I am reminded that every mother and newborn deserves a high level of care. We know that universalizing access to basic, essential newborn care could reduce newborn deaths by 71%. We also know that scaling up the education, training, and production of midwives—and bringing facility-based care closer to home for mothers—has been key to reducing maternal and newborn deaths in several countries. It can for Kenya too!

For every 100,000 live births in Kenya, there are 400 maternal deaths and 270 neonatal deaths. That’s down from 490 and 330 in 1990. But it shows that an unacceptable number of women and newborns are still dying every year. We are making progress, but many mothers in Kenya—particularly in rural areas—continue to deliver at home, and Kenya is far from reaching the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters.

We’re partnering with the Government of Kenya, local partners and experts, entrepreneurs, faith-based organizations, and training institutions to prioritize the health workforce and health systems needed to achieve Kenya’s 2030 Vision and its focus and commitment toward improved maternal and newborn health.

Together, we’ll make sure all of Kenya’s mothers and newborns get the quality of care they deserve, when and where they need it.

Learn more in IntraHealth’s 2013 Annual Report.

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