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Improving the health of mothers and children in the slums of Kenya

In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly two-thirds of all town-dwellers live in slums. And in many countries, numbers are rising, as more people migrate to the towns and cities for work.

Like many cities on the continent, Nairobi, which is already home to over 4 million people, has a growing population. And despite the fact that 60% of the city’s residents live in slums, more Kenyans will make Nairobi their home over the coming years.

The city is an important regional hub for commerce, industry, tourism, education and communication, and many Kenyans believe it offers them the opportunity to improve their conditions in life. But living in one of Nairobi’s slums is tough and dangerous. The lack of sanitation facilities often causes drinking water to become contaminated, meaning residents are at constant risk from cholera epidemics and other water-borne illnesses, such as diarrhoea. And lack of adequate medical services is a huge problem. In Korogocho for example, Nairobi’s fourth-largest slum area, around 300 women and 200 newborn babies die each year because of lack of proper medical attention. And the maternal mortality rate is around 700 women for every 100,000 live births (compared with around 500 for the country as a whole).

And the slums are a hard place for children to grow up. Even when youngsters can afford to stay on in school, getting a full education involves a long walk because of the lack of secondary schools in the slums. This limits the opportunities of finding jobs for most youngsters and many are pulled into a life of crime.

But even with the odds stacked against them, success is possible, as an article in The Guardian proves. The article highlights the work of a Korogocho-born Aggrey Otieno. Recently awarded the Rolex enterprise award in Delhi, Aggrey is believed to be the first resident of Korogocho to gain a degree. But instead of choosing to go into one of the many business sectors in Nairobi, he has become a community leader in Korogocho. Here, he has set up a not-for-profit organisation – Pambazuko Mashinani – which focuses on improving health education. The organisation disseminates information on illnesses such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. And in a few months’ time, it will be launching a 24-hour telemedicine centre, aimed at saving the lives of mothers and children in the slums.

Mr Otieno is modest about his success and says it was achieved partly through “luck”. But he also attributes his good education to his mother’s illegal beer-brewing business, which funded his secondary schooling. Helping his mother also meant he was kept off the streets and avoided being drawn into trouble. Now, he hopes to show his gratitude by improving the lives of others who are perhaps less ‘lucky’ than he has been.

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