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In August 2015, Mount Kenya University was awarded a grant from the CICF to implement a project focused on increasing new-born survival in Bungoma County. Evidence from a recent Kenya Demographic Health Survey indicated that Bungoma’s estimated 31 neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births is among the highest in Kenya, where the average neonatal mortality is 22 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The County Innovation Challenge Fund (CICF) was created by the UK Department for International Development (DfID) to support the Kenya Government’s efforts to reduce maternal and new-born mortality across the country. The programme is aimed at funding the design and implementation of innovative interventions, processes, technologies and services that disrupt the current model of service delivery to provide easier access to quality care for mothers and infants.

The CICF works across six focus counties in Kenya that have been identified as the locations with the poorest outcomes for maternal and neonatal health as well as confronting unique demographic and socio-cultural challenges. These counties are Homa Bay, Bungoma, Kakamega, Garissa, Turkana, an in Nairob’s Embakasi and Kamukunji sub-counties. Mount Kenya University is collaborating with Fountain Africa Trust, a Non-Governmental Organisation based in Bungoma County, and the Bungoma County Ministry of Health to implement a health project aimed at saving the lives of mothers and their babies.

The project entails the creation of special new-born care units where seven sub-county hospitals will receive essential equipment and training to manage new-born health complications. In addition, the team will work with the two referral hospitals to strengthen their ability to provide specialized new-born care. Through strengthening health care providers’ ability to deliver quality care and connecting community health workers to these providers via a tele-health technology platform, the team hopes to reduce the number of neonatal deaths in Bungoma County by 30 per cent by the end of the implementation period.

MKU and partners have also focused on involving the communities through sensitization training and education which the Health Minister expressed is essential for the sustainability of the project. Since the beginning of the project, the MKU team and partners are in the process of implementing a series of activities in Bungoma County.

They have begun setting-up the seven sub-county specialized neonatal care units and upgrading the current neonatal units at Bungoma and Webuye County Referral Hospitals. While upgrading the units, the team is also training 72 nurses and 18 clinicians, based in the hospitals, to diagnose and manage common newborn problems and make timely referrals. Project manager Dan Gatungu has been very impressed with the milestones and achievements of the initiative thus far.

The tele-health platform has been established to provide health care workers with easy access to support from skilled physicians when dealing with new-born health complications. A call centre was set-up to follow-up with mothers who have been discharged for the hospital to provide routine wellness checks for both the mother and new-born. In addition to updating clinical guidelines and disseminating them to health care providers, the program has trained 95 clinicians on neonatology and specialized care for new-borns.

Lastly, the team has run sensitization and education meetings in an effort to increase the demand for care as well as promoting new-born care through the local FM radio stations. MKU and their partners have worked hard to design an intervention aimed at tackling many of the delays in accessing care for mothers and new-borns from increasing families seeking care to improving the quality of care newborns receive while at the hospital. During implementation, the team has been careful to include communities at every step of the process to ensure that the project will be sustainable well-beyond the end of the CICF and make a lasting impact on the communities in Bungoma County.

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