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Gifted Hands: The rise of community birth attendants in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

By Laura Otieno,

Kisumu – When the day breaks, a queue forms at the homestead of 65-year-old Sylvia Atieno. At the heart of Korowe village in Kisumu, Sylvia has coined a name for herself as the heroine of expectant mothers, by the skill of her hands. “Nyamrerwa”, as she is often referred to here, is a Dholuo name christened to traditional birth attendants.

On Saturday morning, we meet her as she massages her clients. Wearing a mask and gloves, she skilfully rubs the mother’s stomach, an action she says helps in improving circulation to both mother and baby as well as relieving the baby from fatigue. An action she says will make it easier during delivery.

According to the WHO, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, rates of births assisted by a medically trained professional have gone up by 59 percent. In Kenya, 31.3% of live births in 2018 were done by a traditional birth attendant. In a survey done by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 41 percent of births in rural areas were done at home compared to 13 percent in urban areas.

While the government of Kenya continues to scale up interventions to encourage hospital births, Dr. Joash Ganda, a gynecologist has called on a hybrid program to include traditional birth attendants in a training module, to improve mortality rates and also reduce the risk of fistula and other birth-related complications.

VIDEO: Gifted Hands: The rise of community birth attendants in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Laura Otieno and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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