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The high price of birth

Margret Wanjiku Njuguna in an IDP camp in Kenya
(Rachel Kibui/IRIN)

Expectant mothers living in internally displaced people’s camps in western Kenya need qualified medical help to minimize the possible risks associated with delivery, the residents said.

“It is by God’s grace that mothers and children survive," Paul Thiongo, chairman of Pipeline IDP camp along the Nakuru-Eldoret highway, said. "Safety during birth is a luxury here; even getting three meals is like a dream. Though it may sound odd for us to be depending on traditional birth attendants [TBAs] in the 21st century, there is not much choice.”

Each week, he said, about five children are born in the camp of 6,500 people. But the TBAs who deliver them lack even the basics, such as gloves.

Margret Wanjiku Njuguna, whose nine-month-old baby was born in the camp after she fled Burnt Forest near Eldoret during the 2007-2008 post-election violence, said she was helped by a neighbour.

“I knew it was wiser to seek professional [help], but I could not raise the KSh400 [US$5] taxi fee and Sh2,650 [$33] delivery fee at Rift Valley General Hospital,” Wanjiku, 37, a mother of two other children, said.

Her labour started when she was preparing dinner for her family. When the contractions intensified, she called an elderly neighbour who safely helped her to deliver a son.

Like Wanjiku, 31-year-old Phyllis Wairimu had no money to travel to hospital to deliver her fourth child. "We depend on earnings of KSh100 [$1.25] per day to cater for our family’s needs; affording medical fees is like a dream,” she said.

When she went into labour at around 4am, Wairimu could not bear her children watching her giving birth in their one-roomed tent. Hours later, the pain intensified and accompanied by a friend, she decided to walk to Rift Valley Hospital, about 10km away.

After 1km, she delivered the baby with the help of a TBA. “I was lucky," she added. "A month later, my neighbour almost lost her life after traditional birth attendants badly cut her umbilical cord.” The IDPs eventually raised the money to take her to hospital.

Linnet Anindo, a TBA in the camp, said: “I have trained other women so that they can offer help to their neighbors while I am not around,” she said. "I am aware of the risks that come with giving birth at home... [but] most of the women in this camp cannot afford to access a health facility.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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