Vihiga, KENYA― A delegation of Canadian parliamentarians saw first-hand the impact a Canada-supported program is having on communities in Vihiga County, Kenya, during a recent field visit organized by RESULTS Canada.
Officially launched in June 2017, Right Start Kenya (“Anzilisha”) aims to improve the quality of nutrition and healthcare for women, adolescent girls, newborns and young children in 21 counties, including Vihiga.
As part of the delegation, Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) Chandra Arya, Stephanie Kusie and Scott Simms visited several locations where Right Start interventions are being delivered, and also had the opportunity to meet with Vihiga County Governor Wilber Ottichilo.
At Vihiga County Referral Hospital, the delegation visited the maternal child health clinic where, through NI’s support, health workers were trained to provide high quality services targeting children under five years and pregnant women. The facility provides health education, vitamin A supplementation for all children six to 59 months, and iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant women, among other services.
Vihiga County Nutrition Coordinator, Esther Odera, told the delegation about how the hospital recorded a decrease in neonatal deaths from 75 in 2016 to 20 in 2017 1. This was due to the use of Chlorhexidine distribution through Nutrition International which reduced deaths and diseases caused by unhygienic methods traditionally practiced in the community, such as applying a solution of ashes and cow dung on the cord immediately after birth. Nutrition International also distributed combined iron and folic acid tablets which indirectly had an effect on mortality as well.
In the maternity unit, the practice of Kangaroo Mother Care for preterm babies was reported to have saved hundreds of lives in the county since the inception of Right Start.
“We have learnt a lot from this visit. We are very proud of Canada’s involvement in Right Start. We believe in your program and thank the county government for doing wonderful work. This visit has been truly inspirational, especially the Kangaroo Mother Care,” said MP Scott Simms.
With high stunting, wasting and underweight rates, Vihiga County still faces many challenges, but county officials are committed to making nutrition a priority. NI’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Richard Pendame, commended the county government on its decision to include nutrition in its development priorities ― and on the allocation of resources for nutrition in its budget.
“I want this county to be the centre of excellence in nutrition,” said Governor Ottichilo. “I am in discussions with universities to give more prominence to nutrition issues. My goal is to make this county the centre of nutrition studies and best practices,” the Governor said, appealing for more support from the Canadian government.
The Canadian MPs discussed a number of issues with county officials, including universal healthcare, gender in healthcare, use of local languages in production of multimedia materials and capacity development in the health sector.
“I am excited by the results I am seeing from Kenyan mothers. The Governor’s pledge to make his county a centre of excellence in nutrition is great! I am very happy, I believe it will happen,” MP Kusie said, while addressing the media outside the Governor’s office.
Through a $9.1M (CAD) investment from the Government of Canada, Right Start Kenya’s objectives are to reduce anaemia, stunting, birth complications and maternal and newborn deaths, as well as the number of low birth weight newborns ― and protect pregnancies from neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The five-year project will reach 710,000 pregnant women with WHO-recommended iron and folic acid supplementation, over 665,000 newborns with a package of interventions at birth, 810,000 adolescent girls with weekly iron and folic supplementation and nutrition education, and 636,000 children under two years old with nutrition services. Some 986,000 women of reproductive age and adolescent girls will also be reached through the fortification of commercial maize flour with iron and folic acid at a national level.
- Kenya Health Information System 2018