Kenyan Parliamentarians meet in Nairobi to address women's and children's health

5-6 DECEMBER 2011 | NAIROBI, KENYA

Kenyan Parliamentarians met over two days to discuss their role in improving the stagnating mortality and morbidity rates for women and children. The meeting which was co-hosted by the Kenyan Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Union was the first in a series of collaborative efforts to define specific actions that the Kenyan parliament can take to support the improvement of women’s and children’s health.

Kenya currently experiences a maternal mortality of 488 per hundred thousand live births and a child mortality rate of 74 per 1000. While these figures remain below the regional Sub-Saharan African averages they are quite high and reflect very slow progress in improving health outcomes. Kenyan parliamentarians attribute the poor health outcomes to: 1) low levels of health financing which result in populations making high out of pocket expenditures; 2) inefficient and ineffective use of resources allotted for health – partially due to corruption; 3) a combination of health systems preventing the adequate implementation of MNCH plans and policies and; 4) social determinants including cultural norms that pose challenges to healthy behaviour, education and water and sanitation.

Commitments

To resolve some of these issues the National Assembly committed to:

  • Develop legislation which promotes the health of women and children, notably following up on National Healthcare Insurance Bill and proposing a Bill for an Act of Parliament to establish the National Health Commission to oversee all matters concerning provision of healthcare both at national and county levels including mother and child health;
  • Work towards an increase in budgetary provision in the area of mother and child health in the financial year 2012/2013 – advocating for an MDG 5 budget line which would encompass maternal, newborn and child health expenditure (this would be in addition to the contraceptive budget line instituted by parliament);
  • Enhance the parliamentary oversight functions through the participation of parliamentarians in mechanisms for reviewing progress made by MNCH;
  • Seek improvement in the flow of information to Parliament on commitments made by government, resources received and results achieved annually to ensure transparency and accountability; and
  • Improve monitoring of MNCH initiatives by parliamentarians by seeking to understand and incorporate the 11 indicators proposed by the Commission on Information and Accountability for use by MPs, among others.

Kenya is one of the countries that has committed to the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health. Kenyan parliamentarians will therefore be able to hold their government to account on the commitment to: Recruit and deploy an additional 20,000 primary care health workers; Establish and operationalize 210 primary health facility centers of excellence to provide maternal and child health services to an additional 1.5 million women and 1.5 million children; and Expand community health care, and decentralize resources.

The parliamentary retreat was opened by Hon Farah Maalim and benefited from contributions from Professor Miriam Were, Laureate, Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize, Community Health Strategy Goodwill Ambassador in Kenya and member of the Independent Experts Review Group, Mr. Martin Chungong, Director of the Programme for the Promotion of Democracy at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Dr. Pius Okong, Board member of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

The meeting will be followed by a policy dialogue organized by the National Assembly with the support of the IPU to discuss the operationalization of the above parliamentary commitments.

A similar parliamentary retreat is being organized in Uganda on 9-10 December 2011. This effort led by the IPU is supported by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and other partners of the IPU’s initiative on maternal, newborn and child health.