Health information adds to families’ wellbeing in Kenya

Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist
Tatu Blomqvist

Consecutive pregnancies take a toll on women’s health while men have trouble feeding their families. Health awareness spread by the Red Cross helps families prepare for health risks in the poor villages of North-Kenya.

Children have their differences. That’s something a Kenyan mother-of-three Saadia Malata, 28, has come to realize. Her youngest, 2-year-old Musa is remarkably healthier than his two older siblings who get sick easily.

Malata’s first children were born at home. When she was giving birth to her first child - as a 15-year-old teenager - she lost so much blood she nearly died. According to the local habit, Malata gave her babies salted water instead of breastfeeding them, and didn’t take them for a health check.

– I didn’t know anything about hospitals or antenatal clinic, Malata recalls.

Breastfeeding reared a healthy toddler

Saadia Malata did everything differently with Musa. He was born in the home village Madogo’s health center and received Calmette, measles and polio vaccines. He was exclusively breastfed for six months, continuing irregularly beyond that age.

This change happened thanks to health information provided by a Kenyan Red Cross volunteer Janet Muama. She visits Saadia and 19 other mothers once a month and talks about healthy nutrition, hygiene, importance of breastfeeding and health clinic services, as well as the benefits of family planning.  

Muama works in a three-year joint Finnish-Kenyan Red Cross health project which aims at preventing health risks for mothers and children in the poor North-Tana. The region’s health situation is grim: as many as 88 children out of 1000 die of malnutrition or diseases before they turn five. Less than ten percent of women use contraceptives.

Red Cross has trained 100 local volunteers as health and nutrition advisors, who go around their villages and give advice to women and men on how to prepare for health risks. The project is funded by the European Union.

Old habits die hard

The volunteers need to be patient and persistent because adopting new habits takes time. However, disseminating health information has already started to bear fruit.

For example, the Bangale region health clinic handles an average of 10 births per month, whereas a year earlier almost all births took place at home. Every month about 20 women come for a contraceptive injection - a noticeable increase from 4 to 5 women earlier. Nowadays many women know that injections don’t lead to infertility.

At first Saadia Malata’s husband threw away her contraceptive pills and was angry at her.

– Not all men in our community agree with contraception. Therefore some women take their injections secretly, Malata reveals.

Traditionally, big family is seen as a blessing. Yet thanks for the health project, Malata’s husband is slowly accepting family planning.

– He understands that there is more room for children in a small family.

Working irregular jobs, her husband has unsteady income. Therefore a small family is easier to feed.

– Saadia has little money, but now she has knowledge. Thanks to this knowledge she can now make better choices, for example when buying groceries. This has a direct effect on the family’s health, Janet Muama notes.

Text: Jenni Jeskanen