Government launches programme to expand free maternal care

By Claire Wanja

The Government through the Ministry of Health has Tuesday launched an expanded free maternal care programme dubbed Linda Mama, Boresha Jamii in a bid to achieve universal access to quality maternal healthcare as well as reduce maternal morbidity and mortality rates in the country, particularly in the rural areas.

Under the Linda Mama, Boresha Jamii programme, all pregnant women can now access antenatal, delivery and postnatal care free of charge in all public, some faith based and private healthcare facilities nation-wide.

The programme comes hot on the heels of concerted efforts made by the National government, County government and health service providers in the past few years to improve the quality of maternal healthcare around the country.

While launching the programme, Cabinet Secretary for Health Dr. Cleopa Mailu said: “Prioritizing the survival and health of women and girls requires recognition of their high value within the society. The launch of Linda Mama is a great step towards improving access and quality of maternal, new-born and child healthcare services for all Kenyans.”

Beneficiaries of the programme will be able to access services such as ante-natal care that includes preventive services; delivery services and post-natal care. Other services include screening for diseases and immunisation for the early infants, emergency health services for complications and conditions, outpatient health care for infants at treatment and child welfare clinics.

And added: “Linda Mama programme is a strategic effort made by the government to reduce the financial burden to families. It is also aimed at enhancing social protection to improve access to healthcare essential to achievement of Vision 2030 and Goal 3 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030.”

“Maternal morbidity and mortality is one of the indicators of reproductive health status of the population. Efforts to reduce maternal deaths is a focal point of the current government’s agenda, international agreements and a priority for women’s rights and health groups throughout the world because maternal deaths are among life’s most tragic outcomes,” said Dr. Mailu.

Primary concern

The Cabinet Secretary said that maternal healthcare is a primary concern for the national government. As such, investing in maternal health is a wise health and economic policy decision that the government had to make.

“Women are the sole income earners in nearly two thirds of all households in our country and across the globe. With this knowledge, I can confidently say that investing in the health of pregnant women has a spill-over macro-economic effect to communities and to our economy. Linda Mama is one intervention that aims at achieving universal access to quality maternal and child health services and contributes to the country’s progress towards universal health coverage,” said Dr. Mailu.

He disclosed that the programme will be realized in two phases running till June 2017. Beneficiaries under the first phase will access maternity services in 5,073 facilities across the country with the second phase commencing in February 2017 providing full benefits of the health services under the scheme with 6,566 health facilities providing Ante-natal Care, Delivery and Post-natal care.

Speaking during the same function, National Hospital Insurance Fund Chairman Hon. Mohamed Ali said that NHIF has built a robust healthcare financing system over the 50 years of its existence as a strategic effort to improve and meet healthcare needs for all Kenyans. Linda Mama is a game changer initiative that will transform maternal healthcare in the country.

The collaborative efforts made by the national government, county governments and  NHIF to introduce this innovative approach, will go a long way in promoting poverty alleviation, equity, social inclusion and reduction of maternal morbidity and mortality rates in the country.

The programme is a follow-up of the Free Maternity Care Programme that began in 2013 designed to reimburse public hospitals for costs incurred in the execution of health care services. Linda Mama is part of the government’s attempts to realize Kenya’s Health Policy 2014-2030 to attain the highest possible standard of health in a responsive manner by supporting equitable, affordable and quality services for all Kenyans.

For a pregnant woman to enjoy the services offered by the programme, she is required to produce her national identification card for registration or, a guardian’s identification card or, use antenatal care records for pregnant women under 18 years.

Registration of beneficiaries can be done through mobile phone platform by typing *263# and follow simple instructions, online registration, contracted Healthcare Providers, NHIF service centres or online and huduma centres countrywide. This move is part of efforts being made to enhance system efficiency, accountability and minimise complaints.

Maternal morbidity and mortality in Kenya results from the interplay of social, cultural, economic and logistical barriers, coupled with a high fertility rate and inadequate and under-funded health services. Strengthening the healthcare system and improving quality of healthcare delivery is pivotal to reversing the trend of high maternal morbidity and mortality.