33 year old Wilfred Muema is the Nursing Officer in charge of Piliwa health facility in Pelewa Town, Kajiado, Kenya. Wilfred has been running the health facility since it opened in 2009 and has support from just two others: a community health extension worker and a volunteer. A small building consisting of three rooms; it is the only health facility available to the 4,385 people who live in Pelewa and the neighbouring villages spread over 50 kilometres. It offers immunisation, maternity services, health education and treatment for common ailments. Before the health facility opened, the community relied on a once-a-week mobile health service from Kajiado town, around 50 kilometres away.
Wilfred and his team now play a key role in saving the lives of women and babies by providing mothers-to-be with check-ups; and vaccinating pregnant mothers to protect them and their unborn babies against maternal and newborn tetanus, a vaccination programme supported by the Pampers Unicef 1 pack = 1 vaccine campaign.
Since the health facility opened, Wilfred has seen a big change in the community. “When I came here there were many diseases,” Wilfred explains. “This was due to lifestyle; a lack of hygiene such as using dirty water and a lack of knowledge. I was working day and night. So many people were not immunised and so many were not going for ante-natal services as the nearest clinic was far away. With time, we have educated the community and now it is just a few cases of people who are not immunised.”
In addition, Wilfred organises support from community health volunteers who play a key role in promoting the importance of vaccinations and safe birthing practices to women living in the community. This relationship with the community health volunteers is critical to making sure that women and babies are protected against fatal diseases such as maternal and newborn tetanus.
Among the Maasai, 80 per cent of home deliveries are managed by traditional birth attendants but this poses a danger for women as tetanus is a disease that can be easily contracted when women give birth in unclean conditions. Delivering babies at home using unsafe and unhygienic birthing practices, such as cutting the umbilical cord with unsterile instruments or handling it with dirty hands or contaminated dressings leaves both mother and baby vulnerable to maternal and newborn tetanus.
With the help of the community health volunteers, Wilfred encourages mothers-to-be to go to the health facility to give birth under his care. He is seeing a steady increase with around three women now giving birth at the health facility every month.
“This is a good change. In the first two years the health facility was open I didn’t conduct one delivery; so even though it’s slow, the trend is good. The mothers here like to give birth at home but it’s not safe and it’s not clean so we try to educate them. Some will walk for up to 20 kilometres to reach the health facility and when they give birth here they enjoy it! If they can’t get here in time, they call me and I will rush to them on my motorbike. We’re hoping in time everyone will come to deliver in the clinic.”
Wilfred’s ambition is to build a maternity wing at the health facility so new mothers are able to stay overnight after giving birth. At the moment, there isn’t the space to stay as the birthing room is also the facility’s store room for medicine and supplies. This means most women go home just a couple of hours after giving birth. “I’m also hoping to get an assistant so we can work as a team,” Wilfred adds.
Since 2006, the Pampers Unicef 1 pack = 1 vaccine campaign has helped fund vaccination programmes in countries such as Kenya helping to protect 100 million women and their babies from maternal and newborn tetanus and eliminating the disease in 16 countries. But despite the progress that has been made, more than 85 million women and their newborns around the world are still at risk from contracting the disease because they have not received the vaccines they need to keep themselves safe.