Breaking news: President Uhuru Kenyatta checks into Kenyatta National Hospital for his annual check-up. KNH is Kenya’s biggest referral hospital. The president’s results will be out soon.
Only that, a Kenyan president checking into a public hospital for treatment is not a likely scenario. Not now at least but it would be nice that they make use of these facilities. You and I know why they will not so let’s just go to Finland instead.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and his spouse Jenni Haukio now have a son who is just days old.
Their child was at the Women’s Clinic at Helsinki University Hospital. It is the only hospital offering birth services in Helsinki. That is like saying that KNH is the only facility that is offering maternal health care to the Nairobi population and so everyone has to utilise the service. That is the power of offering nothing but excellence. Feels good to write that. The world is full possibilities and optimists like me like to relish them.
I have been to Helsinki. I saw mothers receive a box full of goodies. It is almost 8 decades now since Finland started offering expectant mothers a box that we can comfortably call a mothers start-up kit. Inside the box of love are cloths, sheets and toys.
The clothes, I saw, are neither pink nor blue. I made a mental note of that because our obsession with gender can get under your skin.
There is a sleeping bag, bodysuits, bathing products for the baby as well as warm clothing for the outdoors.
With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby’s first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box’s four cardboard walls.
That box is available to everyone including the first lady if she wants to take it. When you have given birth in a country where you start to shop months before the child arrives just so that you do not forget anything, there is a calming sense in knowing that your government has your back.
I met a couple who had brought their weeks old baby for a doctors visit. They had taken a box like many other parents do. The father had taken paternity leave and the mother too. With 9 weeks of leave and 70% of your salary paid, it is an offer that fathers take gladly. You can say that gender equality is scoring big in Finland but what we must not forget is what this kind of space means to a child’s development.
I know Kenya has paternity leave. We should clap for ourselves.
What we do not have are fathers who spend more time with their children.A recent report established that Finland is the only country in the developed world where fathers, I repeat, fathers, spend more time with their school-aged children than their mothers.
SOCIAL SUPPORT IN FINLAND
You cannot take it for granted that there is a deliberate and concerted effort to nurture the healthcare system in Finland.
There is a fulltime daycare system that is well funded and facilitated by the government. As a mother, if the time comes to go back to work, you know, yet again, that the government has your back.
Does it come as a surprise that Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world?
How did Finland get here you ask? It is a story about a democratic system that is accommodating and socially sound. These are the fruits of visionary leadership coupled with political will.
The Finnish program began out of necessity. The kind of necessity that we have in our country. 1 in every 10 children was dying before they celebrated their first birthday. That was 80 years ago.
8 decades later, parenthood in Finland is a near-mythical achievement.
Kenya is making strides albeit small ones. Between 1990 and 2015, maternal mortality has dropped from 385 deaths to 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. That is according to Unicef.
This is not a comparative study. This is a search for answers on what needs to be done to conclusively respond to the crisis that Kenya often finds itself in. It is one thing to proclaim free maternal health care, it is yet another to provide it sustainably and with a deliberate efficacy. To search for these answers should be an everyday quest. We should be concerned about health workers who are barely enough, work long hours and are underpaid. We should be allowed to assess what political will means in our country.
When we crane our necks to look on the outside, often, we look into America and Britain. America is failing to provide quality universal maternal healthcare to its people. America, with all its troubles in delivering healthcare, cannot even guarantee maternity leave to its mothers. That is definitely not a place to look for inspiration.
Political will makes a huge difference in ensuring that there is universal, free and quality maternal health-care. The kind of care that the president would be happy to make use of.