Rewriting Bungoma’s infant mortality story

This article by Evans Ongwae originally appeared in Daily Nation (Kenya) here.

Through a targeted collaborative newborn support project, Mount Kenya University (MKU) and its partners are rewriting Bungoma County’s infant mortality story.

The sad tale of the county losing 32 newborns for every 1,000 live births, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014, has taken a positive turn and now more children survive beyond the critical first 28 days of life.

Principal investigator Dr Jesse Gitaka says the Bungoma newborn support project, which has enhanced the capacity of the county’s hospitals to take care of infants, is a game-changer.

Dr Gitaka, who is also MKU’s head of the human health research programme, says this improved capacity not only helps infants to survive but also saves them from long-term health complications.

The project, financed by UKaid through the County Innovative Challenge Fund (CICF), and implemented by MKU, has revolutionised newborn care in Bungoma County. Before then, the county’s neonatal mortality was 32 out of 1,000 live births, one of the highest in the country. The national average is 22 newborn deaths for 1,000 live births.

Besides providing the much needed health care, the initiative also collects data to inform planning and replication of findings to other counties.


The project has registered several milestones. It has refurbished eight neonatal units in county referral and sub-county government health facilities.

These facilities are: Bungoma Referral and Teaching Hospital, Webuye Sub-County Hospital, Mount Elgon Sub-County Hospital, Kimilili Sub-County Hospital, Naitiri Sub-County Hospital, Bumula Sub-County Hospital, Chwele Sub-County Hospital and Sirisia Sub-County Hospital.

The collaborative project has equipped the eight neonatal units with key kits, including newborn incubators and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines for stabilising newborns with health challenges.

Bungoma County Executive in charge of health, Dr Anthony Walela, noted happily that from a capacity of only 100 newborns, today the facilities can accommodate up to 320 newborns at any given time.

In conjunction with Kenya Paediatrics Association (KPA), the project has trained 150 clinical officers and nurses operating in the newborn units in these facilities.


The project introduced a telemedicine platform that enables remote consultations between health care providers and paediatricians.

A single expert can serve many facilities almost at the same time. This cuts the cost of travelling to access the services. This is in addition to bridging the wide gap between the number of health experts and the big population they serve. Currently, Bungoma County has only one paediatrician.

In yet another milestone, the project introduced a call centre to follow up newborn mothers and offer technical advice related to the identification and management of newborn challenges.

The project has informed the community about and how to benefit from the new facilities. Through the call centre, the project has engaged more than 10,000 mothers and reached thousands through a radio programme and drama.

A baseline study by MKU researchers found that about 50 percent of mothers deliver at home. This is blamed mostly on lack of awareness by mothers and an incoherent community referral system.

On April 30, MKU organised a forum to disseminate the project’s research findings. The meeting updated the county government and other stakeholders on the milestones achieved, challenges encountered and how to improve future projects.

Dr Walela said: “This fruitful collaboration is an excellent example of how universities can leverage their intellectual resources for the betterment of our society.”

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