A new maternal and infant care initiative has been launched in Kenya aimed at increasing access to pre-natal screenings for expectant mothers in a Nairobi slum in.

The initiative forms part of a partnership between General Electric (GE) and Shining Hope for Communities Organisation (SHOFCO), a non-profit organisation that combats urban poverty and gender inequity in the slums of Nairobi.

Under the $25,000 partnership, GE Healthcare will provide hand-held ultrasound, training and advisory support to help SHOFCO’s mission to mobilise mothers to seek pre-natal screenings in Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa which has an estimated 700,000 inhabitants.

As part of the partnership, 24 SHOFCO nurses and clinical officers have each received over 40 hours of training. Among the subsidised technologies provided is GE’s hand-held ultrasound device, designed to help primary health workers conduct examinations that may result in the earlier detection of potentially life-threatening pregnancy complications.

“Through a range of initiatives across the continent, GE is proud to support better outcomes for mothers and babies across Africa,” said General Manager, GE Healthcare East Africa, Andrew Waititu.

“We are firmly committed to serving as a partner in the development of healthcare in Kenya and are humbled to contribute in expanding SHOFCO’s capabilities and reach in the community where it is needed most,” continued Waititu.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), slum dwellers lack access to quality healthcare infrastructure and are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and malnutrition amongst children. In slums, maternal and child mortality rates are about 50% higher than the national average, with an under-five mortality rate of 64 in every 1,000 live births. A lack of access to proper care during and immediately after delivery contributes to high mother and child mortality.

“Most of the health facilities available in the slums lack appropriate equipment to deal with prenatal and maternal health emergencies, in addition to a shortage of skilled personnel needed to provide emergency obstetric care. GE’s hand-held ultrasound device, to be deployed at SHOFCO’s Subra and Makina satellite clinics, will help in reducing unnecessary referrals and decongesting the main health facility in Kibera,” said CEO and Co-founder of SHOFCO, Kennedy Odede.

“Through this programme, expectant mothers will have access to ultrasound scanning before 24 weeks of gestation, that according to WHO guidelines, assists clinicians in better estimating gestational age, improve detection of foetal anomalies and overall, help us improve a woman’s pregnancy experience. We are grateful to GE for their support in helping us expand our services to serve more patients and through capacity building, empowering our clinical officers and nurses with the know-how to deliver proper care to the most vulnerable,” continued Odede.

SHOFCO is anchored under four pillars: Education, Health, Community Empowerment and Water and Sanitation. Key under the health pillar is the Mother and Child Health incentives programme, provided for free to mothers in Kibera. The programme is designed to counteract the high child morbidity and mortality rates by encouraging mothers to seek regular antenatal, post-natal, and child welfare services to ensure positive health outcomes for themselves and their children.

According to WHO data for Kenya in 2015, maternal mortality rates accounted for 510 deaths per 100,000 live births and an infant mortality rate of 36 per 1,000 live births. Led by a commitment to improving access and quality of maternal, newborn and child healthcare services towards the attainment of Kenya’s Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goal 3 agenda, the Kenyan government has made significant progress towards reducing the burden of maternal and infant mortality rates.

A 2013 programme providing free maternity services in the public sector has shown a doubling of the number of women accessing skilled birth attendance to over one million deliveries in 2016, with 2,000 maternal deaths and 30,000 child deaths avoided annually since 2013. In 2016, the government announced a new programme seeking to reach 400,000 underserved expectant mothers by expanding the network of institutions including faith organisations that offer free maternity services.

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