KENYA: Climate Change Water Crisis Impacts Hospital Maternal Care
Forty-three Percent Without Access to Safe Drinking Water
Pumwani Maternity Hospital, in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, is the largest maternity hospital in East Africa. As a much more modern facility, it has all the right equipment with an adequate supply of water most of the time. But regular disconnections in the hospital’s water are still common; especially when bills, running in the region of $50,000 USD per month, aren’t paid on time. It’s obvious that water shortage has lead to increases in the price of water, a fate that can cripple the operations of many hospitals.
The situation of water safety is critical. “Forty-three percent of the population of Kenya is without any sustainable access to safe drinking water,” says a 2006 UNICEF Africa report. Because of this the odds against women for safe procedures in hospitals run against them. Maternal mortality is a real and looming possibility even when medical care is supervising. Shortages extend to more than just water. A need for more trained doctors and medical personnel for non-urban Kenyan hospitals is ongoing.
“We need a better understanding of why so many mothers die during child birth,” said former Kenya World Health Organisation Country Director, David Okello.
27 yr old, Jane Kisia, delivered her child at Nairobi’s, urban centered, Pumwani Maternity Hospital only eight days ago. Despite the fact that Pumwani Hospital has adequate facilities , the hospital ward remained without water for more than a week while Kisia was a patient there. Due to these extreme hardships Jane’s newborn daughter developed a life-threatening case of diarrhea.
“My daughter developed serious medical complications,” said Jane. “We called public health officers to the hospital. It was only then when my sanity was restored,” she admitted.
“Last year alone, more than 7,000 Kenyan children (under five years old) died from diarrheal diseases,” said Dr. Francis Kimani, Kenya’s Director of Medical Services. “Most through eating contaminated food and lack of access to basic hygiene and sanitation.”
Water safety implementations are playing a direct and key role in controlling unwanted disease and deaths in Kenya.
“While there is no magic bullet that solves all maternal health problems, the great majority of maternal deaths can be prevented through simple cost-effective measures, which can be implemented even where resources are scarce,” says Women Deliver, an international advocacy organization working to raise reproductive dignity and health for women.
“Yes, there is a history of water shortages in most of the 160 (officially registered) hospitals in Kenya, but we, as a government, are reversing that trend. We are (now in the process of) renovating more than 100 hospitals in the country as the government invests more than 800 million USD for renovating facilities. Aimed at improving medical services, the renovations are extensive and should be complete by mid 2011,” added the Director.
Additional 2011 funds from the World Bank, up to 200 million USD, are planned to help Kenya deal with severe water and sanitation issues in numerous health institutions across the country. At the same time, Kenya’s Health Ministry is also raising additional funds to help implement the project. Other NGOs like The Rotary Club (Colorado, U.S.) are helping individual hospitals, like the Kisii District Hospital near Kisumu, where sagging plumbing systems are coming up to standards as they help get water “on the agenda.”
“Sewage contaminated water used for drinking, washing or preparing foods, is a significant form of indirect transmission, especially for gastrointestinal diseases such as cholera, rotavirus infection, cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis,” says a recent 2010 report by the U.S. based leader in the field of science education, the BSCS – Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, that currently works under the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Like countless other women in Kenya, as a mother of three, Hellen Wasiliwa, continues to face the challenge of living in an environment where low water hygiene and “climate change provoked” water scarcity surrounds her. She is not the only one impacted by this. In her own household she lives together with her extended family — including her parents and other relatives.
Even though Hellen has given birth recently she has little time to rest and regularly makes a two hour trip, each way, to fetch water for her household. When she reaches her destination the water she gathers is in decline and often unsafe for drinking.
Climate change expert, Anabell Waititu, from the Institute for Environment and Water – Kenya and the Gender and Water Alliance, outlines Kenya’s water shortage crisis and its impacts on women during the COP14 – Copenhagen Climate Talks Conference 14 in Poznan, Poland, December, 2008. What does it take to get legislations to include women and gender inside important key problem solving discussions on global water?
For more information on this topic go to:
- “Gender and Water – Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Interventions,” SDC – Swiss for Development and Cooperation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDC), August 2005
- “Kisii hospital water supply funding study – Peer Water Exchange, Rotary Club, Boulder, CO (US), 2007
- “Focus on 5 – Women’s Health and the MDGs,” Women Deliver, April 2010
- “Water, Sanitation and Health – Microbial Aspects,” World Health Organization, May 2009
Women News Network – WNN correspondent from Nairobi, Gitonga Njeru, a recent recipient of an award grant from The Fund for Investigative Journalism in Washington, D.C., is a journalist who specializes in investigative stories, climate change, rights issues and science reporting. His material for news stories has been published by Reuters News AlertNet, The Guardian (UK) and Africa Science News, along with The Daily Nation and The Nairobi Star Newspaper in Kenya. Njeru’s work has also been featured by Spore Magazine (Brussels) and Ooskanews (US) covering water, land and sanitation conditions in developing countries.
A veteran of countless projects in all hemispheres, photojournalist Rodney Rascona has spent a decade covering famine in Ethiopia, the global food crisis in Kenya and HIV/AIDS education. Rascona is a founder of HEART, a medical program that enables children in the developing world to have life-saving heart operations that worked in 2004 in the tsunami fields in India/Indonesia. Rodney’s latest photographic exhibition, “The Pink Door Photographs“, has been created to generate funds and raise continued awareness for Haitian communities. For more information on Rodney Rascona and his ongoing work connect HERE
Photojournalist Colin Crowley’s past projects have taken him from the deserts of Afghanistan, into earthquake-ravaged cities in Pakistan and through the slums of Nairobi. In 2005, Crowley covered an inside look at the education system in Afghanistan by covering a school in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He also covered the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and the people of Tajikistan for the international NGO, Shelter for Life (SFL). Currently Colin is working for the UK based NGO, Save the Children. For more information on Colin Crowley and his work link HERE
News editor and WNN program associate Maggie Hazvinei Mapondera from Zimbabwe is a recent Yale graduate who has worked to educate the public on searing issues surrounding today’s global slavery, human trafficking, and the denial of rights for global women. She is currently interning for WNN from Washington D.C where she works as a program assistant for JASS – Just Associates.
Additional sources for this article include WHO – the World Health Organization, UNDP – United Nations Development Programme, Kenya World Health Organisation, Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, Department of Health Sciences – Gusii Institute of Science and Technology, BRIDGE & (IDS) the Institute of Development Studies – Knowledge Services, Department of Clinical Pathology – Kenyatta University, UNICEF – United Nations Childrens Fund, Africa Renewal magazine, Women Deliver, U.S. National Institutes of Health, The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Peer Water Exchange and the CDC – U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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