Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of a new “Kiror” – a maternity waiting home on the site of a health center where women who live far from health facilities can stay before giving birth – established by HealthRight and the Kabichbich Health Center in Central Pokot, Kenya.
The area surrounding Kabichbich is lush and the hills are steep, making transportation to the health center very difficult. There is one very rough unpaved road into the health center, but most women wind up walking long distances to reach the health center because they cannot afford transportation. With the new Kiror, a woman can make the trip before she goes into labor. She will also have a comfortable place to stay while she waits to give birth and will have access to basic emergency care at the health center if there are any complications. Without access to a skilled attendant at birth and adequate facilities, women and their babies are at risk of severe disability or death in the case of complications. The Kiror encourages more women to use the health center for delivery – a development that can save women’s lives.
The event was attended by health center staff, local community leaders, government officials, HealthRight staff and a slew of young Community Health Workers wearing HealthRight T-shirts reading “Health is a Human Right. Health is Your Right”. Also in attendance were older women who used to serve as Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), but who now call themselves Community Birth Referral Agents, most of whom were dressed traditionally wearing colorful Pokot beadwork.
TBAs generally have little or no formal training, and their work is to assist women in home births, which has been the predominant childbirth practice in most developing countries. Many international health programs have made efforts over the years to train TBAs, but eventually, research demonstrated that such programs had little or no impact on maternal deaths. As a result, many programs abandoned training of TBAs. HealthRight recognized, however, that these women serve as sources of knowledge in the community, and they have the potential to help ensure that women can access health facilities. HealthRight provided training, and the women were enthusiastic about transforming their roles from assisting with delivery of babies to delivering messages about the importance of facility-based delivery and warning signs of obstetric complications. They were active participants in the event today, taking the lead in song and dance. They expressed a true appreciation for the training they had received, and pride in their new roles as Community Birth Referral Agents. They also demonstrated their commitment to helping ensure the success of the Kiror.
Representatives of the various constituencies in attendance gave heartwarming speeches expressing their appreciation for the help that HealthRight has provided to the health center over the last several years, including providing desperately needed equipment and furnishings for the maternity ward and support for the HIV program. I was provided with a tour of the facility, after which the entire crowd danced over to the Kiror where I cut the ribbon and greeted several women who were resting inside.
I will admit, I came back to the office at the end of the day decked out in Pokot beadwork from head to toe. The community women had a great time dressing me up, dancing with me and showing their appreciation for what they and their community had received. I felt so proud representing HealthRight today.
- Julie Becker, Vice President, Programs, HealthRight International