War elevates maternal and children mortality rates

That war negatively affects maternal and children health and reproductive health in general is not news; it is true and real. Simply put, war and improved maternal and children health is mutually exclusive!!!!


A woman fleeing from war in Sudan

I have tried to bury my head from the looming war in South Sudan but I am unable. There was photo that made rounds on whats up and other social media platforms last week of South Sudanese children praying for peace in their motherland. The children were in tears. My heart broke in to 1001 pieces. I felt sorry for these children. My question is: why are our leaders selfish? Why aren’t they at least compassionate for children and women?

Let me give you a brief background so that at least we are on the same wavelength. A fresh wave of violence erupted in Juba on 8th July just one day before the country’s five-year anniversary of independence. The clashes killed more than 300 people over the course of a few days. By now, you must have seen some of the Kenyans returning home from Sudan- that is the effect of this fresh war.

Since the conflict began, it has been observed that 1 in 5 people in South Sudan have been displaced. More than 2.3 million citizens have been forced to flee their homes. Just over 720,000 people have escaped to neighboring countries in search of safety, but most are trapped inside the warring nation.

It may be a battle of supremacy to the leaders involved but to women and children, it means termination of destinies. What do I mean? Where there is war or violence, maternal and children mortality is high. It is no wonder countries like Somalia and DR Congo were named the worst countries to be a mother; at position 179 and 178 respectively according to Save the Children’s 2015 Mothers’ Index. What is common between these two countries is the presence of war.

According to World Health Organization, Somalia’s health indicators continue to be some of the worst in the world. More than 350 000 Somalis are refugees and a further 400 000 are internally displaced- displacement alone may impede a woman’s access to a health facility.

Syria is another good example of what war can do. Before the civil war, 96% of mothers in Syria gave birth with the help of trained medical assistant but 3 years of civil war caused hospitals and routine health care to collapse and medical services for women almost nonexistent.

Although fighting affects nearly the entire country, the truth is it affects women and children the most.

Where there is war, deteriorating impact on health infrastructure is expected to increase the relative risk that women die from complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

south-sudan-mother and her twins...

A Sudanese woman with her newborn twins- photo courtesy of ICRC

Violence, displacement and killings during conflict means non-existent healthcare system meaning women who are delivering are not delivering into safe hands. As people are displaced, health workers are displaced too meaning health facilities remain closed. Lack of manpower, lack of hospitals and clinics and lack of roads creates delays in getting help. In obstetrics and maternal health, any delay may mean death of the mother, the baby or both!

To the two factions of South Sudan government: who will you lead if people continue to die and get displaced? Remember a successful leader is the one who leads a healthy peaceful nation and what makes a healthy nation is healthy babies plus healthy mothers…kazi kwenu!!!!!



Fare thee well Natalie…

Winnie and Vincent by the graveside

Vincent, Winnie and a relative by the graveside

Being a mum and a maternal, newborn and children health advocate has made me celebrate even the tiniest milestones in friends, relatives and even strangers’ pregnancies and child (ren) development. It is no wonder I gladly answer to calls to grace first birthday parties which, to me, are a celebration for making it through the first year of colic, burping, cries and fevers that come with jabs, stress that comes with weaning and the rambunctiousness that comes with crawling and first steps.

Most Saturdays of May and June have been spent singing birthday songs and sampling different flavours and shapes of birthday cakes all of which always remind me of God’s faithfulness, love and fulfillment of His promises towards these future voters.

Jabali’s first birthday was registered as well- We invited friends and families to celebrate with us. It was a small intimate affair with family and friends, more for the memories to show him when he’s older how much he meant to us and meant to so many people that were there to celebrate his big day.

The first week of July, 2nd July to be precise was not going to be any different for Natalie Mwende, the first and only child to my colleague Winnie Makau and her husband Vincent Makau. Natalie had clocked exactly one year and she was to blow her first birthday candle. But no, it never happened because baby Natalie fell ill on 30th June and had to be taken to Machakos level 5 hospital on 2nd July and she was admitted.


Lat days of Natalie in Hospital

Last days of Natalie in hospital

On 3rd July at exactly 7.30am, Natalie passed on having lived in this world for just one year, one day; she never lived to see her 5th birthday. Reports indicate that about 108,000 children die annually in Kenya before their fifth birthday with 65 per cent of them dying before they celebrate their first birthday.

So on Tuesday, 12th July 2016 we went to bury the bubbly Natalie in Katangi, Machakos County. It was a befitting yet painful send off with so many attendances from within and without. It was a weekday but her aunties, uncles, cousins, neighbours, and even politicians all came to give her a warm send off on that cold Tuesday.

Inside the grave

Natalie in her final resting place

Anytime I looked at her small pure white casket, my heart ached so badly. I may not have interacted so much with Natalie but Winnie and I were expectant almost the same time. Pregnant mamas are always buddies; they have a way of clicking with each other I think because they see themselves through the same lens as far as pregnancy experience is concern. Even after babies come, we still share the same experience- motherhood and the challenges that come with it. The news of Natalie’s demise saddened me. I imagined my Jabali and how he has occupied the greatest part of my life and tears just kept flowing freely because to be honest, I cannot envision life without my kababa.

My mind kept flash-backing on the many one-year-olds’ birthday parties I have attended in the past 2 months. The birthday celebrations were filled with so much joy and laughter. I was almost tempted to ask why Natalie? Why on her birthday? But again found refuge in my bible which says in Revelation 14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

The bubbly Natalie

The bubbly Natalie

Natalie was a baby, a cute bubbly angel of God who was blameless and sinless. I know she is resting in a better place, a place of milk and honey; a place where she will praise God with the other angles.

Winnie and Vincent by the graveside
Winnie and Vincent, It was evidently so painful for a mother to bury her daughter and even more painful for a father to see the little casket carrying the remains of her daughter, probably the bearer of her mother’s name being lowered to the grave. Dear ones, Be encouraged with Psalm 34:18 which says: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

The presiding priest

The burial rites Presiding Priest

I conclude with words from one of Natalie’s grandfathers in his speech ‘Life is pleasant, death is peaceful, it is only the transition that matters’

Fare thee well Natalie, there is no doubt your parents really loved you…

‘Seek help’ advises Fifty-seven year old Grace Kambini who battled infertility

Many couples struggle with infertility and though infertility is not always a woman’s problem, it is often thought of as only a women’s condition. The African society places passionate premium on procreation in any family setting. The woman’s place in marriage remains precarious till confirmed through child bearing. In the society, a woman has to prove her womanhood through motherhood. The man also has to confirm his manhood in same fashion.
As a woman battling infertility, what should you do amid societal stigmatization? Today, Merck more than a Mother shares part one of Grace Kambini’s story of infertility. Her advice, ‘seek help’! Please read on and stay put for part two of her story.


Grace 1

“I ask myself every day – ‘Who I am in this world? Is this the life I was meant to live?’ there is no one to love or help me” – Grace Kambini.

Fifty-seven year old Grace Kambini popularly known as Mama Chips says she got married out of societal expectations, whereby women are expected to get married to earn respect from their communities.
After nine years in her marriage, she realized that she could not give birth. Both her husband and his relatives started abusing and insulting Grace.
The abuse and insults extended to her home where she was tortured and frequently denied food for weeks at a time. Her husband did not care about her woes.


“I remember asking my husband, how long I will continue to live this misery. He replied -You refuse to leave my house as if your parents are dead, if they are dead you should ask them to open their grave so you may join them. You are of no use to me-. Every time I remember his insult or talk about it, I feel faint and out of breath. Due to the stress I endured I suffered hypertension and Diabetes, now my life is about injecting insulin day and night.” Grace said crying.

She had nowhere to go. Unfortunately, Grace has no living relatives on her mother’s side and her in-laws did not seem to care about her suffering. At one point, Grace’s husband even asked her to go back to her late parent’s home and wake them from their graves so they can accommodate her.


Grace says that she did not have money but she soldiered on. There was a point in her marriage where she missed her periods for a month. The following month she started bleeding excessively instead of getting her period. She was also vomiting profusely.
She decided to seek medical advice to find out what was wrong with her. The doctor advised her to go for an operation since she was pregnant and the fetus was developing in her fallopian tubes instead of the uterus.
Her husband of ten years has divorced her and she started living alone with no one to support or advise her. Life became harder with each passing day.
“I still ask myself “Who I am in this world? Is this the life I was meant to live?” There is no one to love or help me; I have nowhere to go when I travel to the village my brothers’ wives constantly insult me”. She described her desperate situation.

Grace at her vegetable stand

Grace at her vegetable stand

She started her own small business selling chips by the roadside to help sustain her – hence the nickname “Mama Chips”.
Grace advises young couples to visit hospitals regularly and seek solutions as a couple saying, “If I was younger with the knowledge that I have now, I would have explored better fertility options to better my life, but now I am too old”.


About Merck more than a Mother campaign

“Merck more than a Mother” campaign seeks to reduce the stigmatization and social suffering of infertile women in Africa.

“The “Merck more than a Mother” campaign launched the “Empowering Berna” initiative at the recently concluded CSW60, and it aims to empower underprivileged infertile women who have past the stage of receiving treatment. The initiative helps them establish their own small business and build their own independent lives.” Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

Stay tuned to see what happened to Grace after Meeting “Merck More than a Mother” and how “Empowering Berna” project has changed her life. If you would like to share your story, please contact mystory@merckmorethanamother.com.

Let your voice be heard and Join the conversation on social media:

Twitter: @MerckandMothers

Facebook: Merck more than a Mother

Youtube: Merck more than a Mother

Website: www.merckmorethanamother.com

For more information about infertility, please read here.

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