Thursday, June 22, 2023

Nairobi, Kenya

BRENDA CZEDA: So I am with Samantha Power who is visiting the east African region from the 22nd through to July [June] 24th. She’ll be visiting different parts of the east African community – of course she came to Kenya first, then now she’ll be heading to the other east African countries. Let’s look at how drought and the health sector of this region is faring. On Wednesday, she was part of the team, you know, the Kenyan government and the U.S. government together with other private partners who launched the m-mama initiative that will help reduce the cases of maternal and new birth deaths here in the country. 

Thank you so much for joining us. Talk to us about your trip here in the African region. What has made you to come to Kenya, and from Kenya going to other parts of the East African region and what you intend to achieve with this trip?

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Well, let me just say that I think the health of the U.S.-Kenyan partnership has never been stronger. We are collaborating on everything from regional security issues, encouraging a peaceful resolution to the war in Sudan, to USAID providing vast amounts of humanitarian assistance here to help deal with drought conditions in places like Turkana, which I visited last year at the height of the fifth straight failed rain season, to investments in clinics like this one in terms of the health sector and that of malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, COVID where we worked together in vaccinating so many Kenyans. But I really think the economic vibrancy as well as President Ruto tries to secure greater and greater foreign direct investment here, that is where Ambassador Whitman and I, I think, can really channel our advocacy, which is to get people to see how much Kenya has to offer. And we already see it with venture capital investments skyrocketing here while they're decreasing elsewhere in the world and on the continent. But we think there's much more to do to get businesspeople to really see what kind of opportunities exist here. So that's been a major source of emphasis, as has investments in combating maternal and child health.

MS. CZEDA: All right. And just before you came to the Serena Hotel to be a part of the team that will be launching the m-mama initiative in Kenya, talk to us about that meeting that you had with the President.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, first, just to say a word about what m-mama is. We're at a clinic, in a health facility that – where there are 30 births a day on average – about ten of them have some form of complication and there's only one ambulance, and this is Nairobi where there's a lot of other forms of transport. In rural areas, often, a leading cause of maternal death or newborn death it's just not being able to get to the hospital, not being able to get to a health worker or to a clinic. So what we've done with m-mama is we've announced that we're bringing this incredible dispatch emergency transportation service to Kenya, and so a part of my discussion with the President was about him and his team throwing their full weight behind this. So between the Vodafone Foundation, the M-Pesa Foundation, the United States and the Kenyan Government, we actually think that within just a few years we can get to a situation where every pregnant mother knows that she can get to the hospital or some kind of medical care that she needs and knows that she can do so safely without having to walk, or ride a bicycle, or stay in her home where she could potentially die of complications. So we think this is an incredibly exciting example of bringing technology to bear on a major public health challenge, and it's a public-private partnership of the kind that we think Kenya can see a lot more of.

MS. CZEDA: And a public-private partnership is what the Kenyan government has been talking about within the health sector. Funding might be an issue. Are we likely to see that from this initiative?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well we announced today at USAID that we're bringing $5 million to this initiative, the Vodafone Foundation, and M-Pesa Foundation bringing an additional $9 million. And what's so extraordinary about this emergency transport idea is that it actually relies on community members volunteering to say, ‘hey, I'm not a professional ambulance driver, nor am I a professional taxi driver, but actually someone in my family died in childbirth and I have the chance to volunteer and become part of a network to provide those pregnant mothers with a lift to a local health facility through this organization and this dispatch service.’ So it's actually a very cost effective way to save as many as 25,000 lives – mothers' lives a year.  

MS. CZEDA: And we were just listening to you in the morning talking about some of the video that touched your heart, that’s so dear to you about, you know, a Kenyan who lost a relative, actually a spouse, because of the maternal death. And how many counties is the USAID together with the Kenyan Government and the private partners targeting using in this m-mama initiative?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, we are going to start by piloting, and the government and its implementation team will figure out where it makes most sense, where there are big coverage gaps, for example in terms of transportation. So I suspect we'll see one of the initial pilot areas being a very rural and remote area but that's going to be where you see a lot of issues with where the inability to get to health care is what ends up killing the mother or the child.

But at the same time, even in an urban area like this one, we know that even still somebody may be forced to walk to the hospital because they can't afford taking a taxi or finding some other way to a facility. So our objective, to your question, is 100 percent coverage within five years – and we think we absolutely can get there. We have done something like this with Tanzania, and there we've seen a 38 percent drop in maternal mortality in the areas where we have piloted this emergency transportation service. So we expect tens of thousands of lives to be saved as soon as the program is up and running.

MS. CZEDA: So someone would ask ‘why Kenya’ – during this visit?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, the strength of the partnership for starters, which again, I think is only on an upward trajectory with the strategic partnership that we've launched together, but also years and years of investment in the health sector. Years and years of working on malaria together where we have cut down by 50 percent – malaria deaths here in Kenya. Years and years of providing antiretrovirals, launching that vaccination campaign together. We have all the relationships, it's just a question now of combining the technology, the communications, making sure that the governors are on board – that it isn't just something run by the national governments since this health is something that has been devolved. But we have the platforms and combining it, as I know President Ruto wants to do with a surge of health care worker training. In so many parts of the world and even in parts of Kenya you have too few community health workers, or you have community health workers who do God's work, but they aren't paid. So figuring out how we combine proper payment and support for these health care workers with training for those workers so they know where to steer a mother depending on their particular circumstances and health needs.

MS. CZEDA: All right. And, you know, even as you visit the African region, one of the things that you'll be looking at is conflict. So let's talk about how conflict in the continent is impacting on the health – the health of the women – especially when it comes to maternal and the child health.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I mean, look at Sudan right now where two so-called military leaders have recklessly taken their country to a path of destruction. I was just in Chad a few weeks ago watching Sudanese fleeing across the border, many of them had suffered sexual violence or had seen murder in front of their eyes. One mother had a child ripped out from under her arms and thrown into a fire. So when you talk about child mortality, that is on a very extreme and graphic side of the spectrum. But every day that that conflict goes on without remedy, without those leaders – so-called military leaders – putting the interests of their people first, you are going to see hospitals without electricity, surgeons who are performing surgery by candlelight because there's no fuel, mothers unable to get any form of transport to a health clinic, doctors who flee the country and become refugees and are no longer providing care. So when a country – individuals in a country, or military factions within a country – turn on themselves it is usually the women and children who suffer first – who suffer most – and that is what's happening right now in Sudan.

Administrator Power Travels to Kenya and Tanzania - June 2023


Administrator Samantha Power is traveling to Kenya and Tanzania to reinforce the United States’ longstanding and continued commitment to both countries.

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