In 2016, maternal deaths in Mukuru kwa Njenga were 14 in 1,000. Now, that’s closer to zero.

In 2016, maternal deaths in Mukuru kwa Njenga were 14 in 1,000. Now, that’s closer to zero.

When Beverly Watkinson relocated from Kangaroo Point to Mukuru, Nairobi, maternal deaths in the neighbourhood were estimated to be 14 in 1000. Since July 2018, there have been 750 births at a newly created maternal health facility at the Ruben Centre and zero maternal deaths*.

Beverly accepted the role of Development Director at The Ruben Centre, in Mukuru kwa Njenga, a district of Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016. The Centre provides health services and other support to residents of one of Nairobi’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. With 350,000 people and limited employment, the area faces high rates of crime, abuse and disease. Residents have limited access to health services, even those offered at the Ruben Centre can be hard to reach for those unable to travel as the only affordable transport in and out of the neighbourhood was by motorbike. For women in the neighbourhood, there were no dedicated safe birthing facility and women would either travel outside the area, which was difficult in later stages of pregnancy, or give birth at home with limited supports and no access to effective emergency services in the case of complications.

Mukuru kwa Njenga

In August 2017, following a severe cholera outbreak in Mukuru, Beverly worked with staff of the Ruben Centre to design and conduct a feasibility study into the possibility of launching maternal health services for the neighbourhood. Beverly’s role involved mentoring local staff in how to conduct a study and how to assess the critical success factors in the project to ensure the service would be sustainable. In May 2018, the Centre’s new team of five midwives and three assistants had delivered 57 babies. In June, the Centre achieved a major leap forward by acquiring an ambulance, enabling the Centre to respond to emergencies and transport patients to other hospitals. As of July 2019, the maternal health department of the Ruben Centre reported 750 births with zero maternal deaths.  

The Ruben Centre’s ambulance ready to respond to emergencies. Photo: The Ruben Centre

Essential to this success has been the drive and dedication of the management of the Ruben Centre, who are passionate about achieving sustainable solutions to the challenges in their neighbourhood. These new services provide a direct benefit for mothers and children who use the new maternal health services and also to the midwives and nurses who have opportunities for employment through the Centre. Given the limited transportation options in and out of Mukuru, creating these local jobs is just one way the Ruben Centre has demonstrated a strategy for addressing the root causes of poverty.

In July 2019, Beverly completed her two year placement and her role was filled by a Kenyan professional she assisted to train. This new development director will continue to develop monitoring and evaluation tools to assess the effectiveness of the Centre’s programs and the possibility of expanding the Centre’s services to reach more residents and provide a wider range of health services.

*These numbers have been provided to Palms in Beverly’s annual quantitative report.