How Kenyan Women Trek to Uganda to Give Birth (allAfrica.com)

There are fears many children from West Pokot could one day claim citizenship of Uganda, where their parents delivered them due to lack of health facilities in Kenya.

Kacheliba MP Mark Lomunokol confirmed that because hospital births are now being encouraged, many Pokot women are forced to seek maternity services in the neighbouring country.

“Most of patients from this region are forced to travel for many kilometres to Moroto in Uganda or the Kapenguria county hospital to seek medication and give birth,” he said.

Uganda laws allow children born there to seek citizenship, if they belong to any of the indigenous communities that existed within the borders by 1926.

One woman, Christine Elijah from Kasses Village in North Pokot sub county, says most mothers along the border have to cross over to Uganda if they want to deliver in hospital.

She said majority, however, prefer giving birth at home with the help of traditional birth attendants.

She said the nearest Kenyan facility from the village is more than 60 kilometres away.

“We are forced to give birth at home since we cannot walk long distance to the hospital,” she says.

Lomunokol says this has forced the CDF to allocate more than Sh20 million to set up new health facilities in the region.

He asks the government to upgrade Alale and Kacheliba health facilities to help residents, since most of the patients transferred to Kapenguria district hospital die on the treacherous way.

“We have lost many people who are referred to county hospital in Kapenguria, 300 kilometres away, because of the long distance and poor state of the road,” he said.

He said when the two hospitals are upgraded, they will serve even Ugandans.

The home births became apparent last month when Principal Secretary for Health Khadijah Kassachoon visited Kacheliba constituency.

She was welcomed with a traditional dance by the village women. But while she rose to deliver her speech, one woman who had danced vigorously went into labour and gave birth to a bouncing baby girl at the public rally.

The baby was named after the PS. The delivery was normal here, where 70 per cent of women deliver at home in unhygienic conditions.

“Over 65 per cent of women in this constituency deliver at home with the help of traditional birth attendants because they are familiar with them,” Dr Kassachoon says.

“I’m urging mothers from this community to delivery in hospitals since the government has waived maternity costs,” she said.

The PS said the community is migrant and regular movement in search of pasture and water hinders women from attending clinics regularly and giving birth in hospitals.

The county has a total of 102 health facilities serving a population of more than 500,000 residents.

The lack of health facilities has also affected family planning, even though most women in the region say they don’t plan their families because it is a taboo. Christine says women are barred by their husbands from planning their families but some do it secretly.

“When your husband knows you have gone to the hospital to seek the services, you are beaten and some even risk taking you back to you parents’ home because you cannot bear children,” she said.

Andrew Chemlukei, a resident of Kasses Village, says most men in the community don’t allow their women to plan their families because the area is vulnerable to malaria and cattle rustling.

“This region is vulnerable to malaria and there are no hospitals. Most families lose their babies to the disease before attaining the age of five. This has forced most men to give birth to many children so that some can survive,” he said.

He said many men in the region fear being childless and prefer giving birth to many children. Chemlukei said the community doesn’t find bringing up many children expensive because if they are girls, they are married off while boys are taught on how to fend for their families at an early age.

West Pokot executive member for health Catherine Mukenyang said uptake of family planning in the region had tremendously increased by 4.7 per cent since the introduction of county governments.

“When health sector was devolved to counties, uptake of family planning was at 9.5 per cent and currently is standing at 14.2 per cent,” she said.

Kenya Demographic Survey of 2009 indicates that only 9.5 per cent use modern contraceptives and the maternal mortality rate is 488 per 100,000 births.