On Tuesday 19th of December, Mount Kenya University (MKU) and Bungoma County Government marked an important milestone when the state-of-art Newborn Units (NBUs) were officially handed over to the county. This occasion was graced by the first lady of Bungoma county, H. E. Caroline Wangamati who was accompanied by the county health leadership. In her remarks, she expressed her deep concern for the high newborn mortality rate in Bungoma county and indicated that she would lead from the front in fighting for better maternal and infant health. The first lady expressed optimism in reversing the sorry state of health in the county through strengthening collaborations as exhibited by MKU. She further challenged the community to shun retrogressive cultural practices and embrace new innovative ways of addressing health problems. She also called for more resources towards research and innovation in preventing premature deliveries, complications and deaths.
In his statement, the MKU Vice-Chancellor reiterated the university’s commitment to its values of teaching, research and community outreach. In addition, he emphasized the University’s commitment in strengthening synergetic partnerships with county governments towards achieving the national development priority goals including health, food security as well as job and wealth creation.
New born mortality
According to global and national statistics, Kenya has among the worst newborn health indicators in the world. Although the country has made significant progress over the past two decades in reducing newborn mortality, the rate still remains high at 22 deaths per every 1000 live births. This is in stark contrast to other countries like Japan that have one death in every 1000 live births or Cuba with 5. In Kenya, Bungoma county is among 6 counties with the worst newborn mortality indicators at 32 deaths in every 1000 newborn live births. This calls for urgent and concerted efforts to mitigate premature births and enhance survival and quality of health for newborns.
The project dubbed the “Collaborative Newborn Support Project” was funded by UKaid through the County Innovation Challenge Fund (CICF), and was implemented by Mount Kenya University together with local stakeholders and the Kenya Paediatric Association. “In the next one year, we envisage that Bungoma county newborn mortality will reduce significantly”, asserts Dr Jesse Gitaka, the lead investigator of the project.Over the last 20 months of the project, important milestones have been achieved. “We have increased the capacity of newborn facilities in Bungoma by refurbishing and installing modern equipment in 8 newborn units across 8 sub-county health facilities, from only two inadequately equipped facilities” says Prof. Francis W. Muregi, the Director in charge of Research and Innovation at Mount Kenya University.He adds that from a capacity of only 100 newborns, the facilities can now handle 320 newborns at any given time. Additionally, about 10,000 mothers have been engaged through the call centre service, thousands reached over the radio programme and drama, 95 nurses and clinicians trained on neonatology and the telehealth platform installed to offer virtual paediatric support and continuous mentorship to clinicians in NBUs.
According to Prof. Muregi, the project is a model of how universities should leverage on intellectual resources by working collaboratively with communities to address socio-economic challenges.