Photo: Unequal Scenes

Can business solve poverty? Maternal health care in Kenya provides a clue

It is 18 years into the 21st Century, or is it 17? I’m not sure if the year 2000 is counted. Anyway, we are beginning to realize that new problems of poverty will require new solutions. One such problem is that of exclusion.

You can see around that society is getting more affluent. Mobile phones used to be a preserve of the rich. Even for them, affording “kredo” was the biggest deal. Today ownership of these gadgets has become a necessity.

A little thanks has to go to telecom companies, like Safaricom, who have given us data bundles and call rates that go a long way, plus the indispensable Okoa Jahazi.

That’s great but at the same time you can feel that life has gotten expensive. Food is eating up more of our budgets, rent to a decent accomodation costs a kidney. I feel you. For many others, they wish they had a budget for food to eat into. Inequality is being normalized. Can we end this?

First Lady of Kenya, Margaret Kenyatta put forth, “We need to ask ourselves what have we done towards the realization of MDGs.” MDGs are Millennium Development Goals that mobilized countries to improve socially, economically and politically within a time frame, that came to pass. She was really addressing SMEs and big firms. These two asked for ‘less Government’ in the way of business but can they now return the favor and address challenges of poverty? Can they make a difference in society beyond their products and services?

Turns out they can. The former in social entrepreneurship and the latter through corporate social responsibility. According to The Business Solution to Poverty, it is because they attract money, pool talent and reach scale better than anyone else.

Women are more affected by poverty

Geeta Rao Gupta used to be a honcho at UNICEF. She said, “poverty is a gendered experience.” She was right. It’s not only because, of the 40% of Kenyans who are poor, women are the majority but also because there exist gender-specific issues that make women hardest hit by poverty. Just look at maternal healthcare, for instance.

Figures, on maternal and child mortality, that you and I would consider sad and embarrassing forced the Government’s hand in initiating the ‘Linda Mama Boresha Jamii’ program. It’s key sell was making maternal health care in Kenya free.

But this is not enough. Health personnel and improved facilities are needed. The pressure on medical equipments is immense. Senior Nurse at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) Newborn Unit, Florence Ogongo said, “This unit we manage babies who are sick, at term or preterm newborns with complications, from all over the country.

“The ideal bed capacity is 50 but  … we manage more than 2 times the ideal number.”

Unfortunately for her and mothers who have no alternative to KNH, this is what they had to make do with. Government’s resources are not being directed to health care as is needed; or maternal health care in Kenya for that matter. Equipment is expensive; just one incubator costs over sh.2 million. Do mothers and babies suffer and die because “there’s no money?”

Maternal health care is important for the economy

Before we answer that question, let’s waste time with some mental gymnastics. Some people were appalled that the Kenyan Government could even consider making maternal health care free. They would be surprised at this write-up on maternal health care in Kenya.

They argue that population control is where emphasis should be placed. Do we gain socioeconomically from allowing more children to enjoy adulthood? You see, maternal healthcare not only protects productive women but is also an indicator of the quality of health in a country. When you invest in maternal health care, you invest in a better medical field.

An example of business solving poverty

You’ll be pleased to know that the women who use KNH now have a much better experience of childbirth. This is important because it has been found that wealthier women in Kenya enjoy 4 times better maternal health care than the poor, who use public hospitals.

Behind this good work is Safaricom Foundation. Florence Ogongo, our KNH nurse, had to endure one child needing 4 machines at the mortal expense of others. Now she celebrates the fact that mortality has gone down 30%, from 40%, in just over 2 years thanks to assistance by Safaricom Foundation.

Safaricom Foundation answered Margaret Kenyatta’s call and put in sh.50 million, in 2014, to establish a new ward and purchase a host of medical equipments, for proud new mothers and adorable little babies.

The rehabilitation saw new incubators, ICU beds, laundry equipment, resuscitators – among others – brought in to save the lives of these women and their children.

Maternal Health Care in Kenya

This is just one foot forward of the many steps Safaricom Foundation has taken to stand out in making a difference to the lives of Kenyans. 3 million Kenyans, so far, to be precise.

Safaricom Foundation was established in 2003 to push sustainable projects that will empower Kenyans across all fields. It has taken the role of leader and partner in availing, a whooping, sh.1 billion to support education, health, water, economic empowerment, environmental conservation, disaster relief, arts and culture. So far, I’ve not seen signs of exhaustion.