The original version of this article, by Emily Puckart, appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force blog. This is the second post about MHTF and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s trip to Nairobi, Kenya to host a cross-Atlantic web-cast meeting on “Maternal Health Challenges in Kenya: What New Research Shows.” The first is available here along with video of the conference.
“Do you want to be a pregnant woman or a prisoner in Kenya?” asked Dr. Margret Meme, one of speakers in Nairobi at the recent policy dialogue “Maternal Health Challenges in Kenya: What New Research Shows.” She explained that the last prisoner killed in Kenya through capital punishment was over 20 years ago, yet pregnant women continue to die of treatable causes not just in Kenya, but globally.
As Dr. Meme addressed maternal health through the lens of a human rights perspective she highlighted a number of recommendations in order to more adequately address maternal health challenges in Kenya. She was concerned that pregnancy was treated more like a medical disease with purely medical solutions. Dr. Meme urged maternal health advocates to also focus on the cultural, social, gender, and economic factors that influence maternal health and asked that these factors be addressed along with medical solutions in order to truly address maternal health challenges.
Naturally, addressing maternal health challenges can come with a monetary price. However, instead of viewing that cost as a cost that must come after more immediate government priorities such as infrastructure and defense, Dr. Meme argued that cost should be borne as the government would bear any other cost for public goods. As pregnancy builds a nation, Dr. Meme argued that maternal health is a public good, in the same vein as defense. Therefore maternal health should have a budget allocation that is just as important as the budget line for defense.
Of course, pushing for more public funding of maternal health can lead to other complications. If advocates successfully encourage politicians to increase funding for maternal health programs, the work of maternal health advocates cannot simply end there. Advocates should hold governments accountable; not just in putting aside funding for maternal health, but also for actually making sure that the money reaches the intended beneficiaries. Therefore budget accountability tracking mechanisms should go hand and hand with pushing for increased public funding to maternal health programs.
Finally, Dr. Meme addressed the need for men to be more involved in maternal health. As she clearly stated; the role of men in maternal health shouldn’t stop at conception. Men focused programs which clarify reproductive and sexual health rights, as well as educate men on issues of maternal mortality and morbidity should encourage men to respect the rights of women to space their pregnancies and deliver their babies safely.
Emily Puckart is a senior program assistant for the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF).
Photo Credit: Jonathan Odhong, African Population and Health Research Center.