More women are giving birth at home and deaths are not being reported to authorities due to fear of Covid-19, new data released by the government shows.
According to the data from Civil Registration Services (CRS), the number of registered births has dropped by 13.3 per cent and deaths reduced by 15 per cent respectively since the country recorded its first covid-19 cases on March 13.
As Kenya and the rest of the world reel from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, pregnant women, afraid to contract the disease in hospitals or unable to access health facilities due to movement restrictions, have opted to deliver their babies at home.
The data from the CRS states that about 40,000 births could not be accounted for in May, with the country registering only 71, 502 this year as compared to 110, 792 the same month in 2019. This was a 35.3 per cent drop.
Director of Civil Registration Services Janet Mucheru said there was a similar drop in April with a decline of 18, 313 registered births from 100,896 in 2019 to 82,318 this year.
Ms Mucheru told the Nation that the drop was detected after few births were being registered indicating more women were giving birth at home.
“This is a clear sign that expectant mothers are reverting to the use of traditional birth attendants, who are ill-equipped for complications during delivery, should they occur,” she said.
She adds: “I am afraid that if the government is going to use the data, then some Kenyans might be left out because we will not have the right information and when the schools open, more people would be applying for the birth certificates.”
The data further revealed that between March and May, there was clear drop in the number of registered deaths, an indication that people could be dying at home and the deaths are not registered.
From the statistics, the number of registered deaths in May dropped from 16,312 in 2019 to 10,776 in 2020. In March, when the country recorded its first case of the new coronavirus, a 5,000 drop in the number of deaths was recorded from 19,763 registered in 2019 in the same period.
Ms Mucheru attributed the drop in the number of registered births to the high number of home deliveries that are not registered by the authorities.
“Many mothers are giving birth at home and this is so much associated with the Ministry of Health “stay at home” protocol and curfews affect mothers seeking delivery in health facilities and also suspicion of contracting Covid-19 from contact records from registration agents especially those in health facilities,” Ms Mucheru said.
She warned that the high teenage pregnancy being witnessed in the country will have a long-term effect on civil registration administrative process.
The drop in the registered deaths is associated with burial protocol of Covid-19 in which victims must be buried in 24 hours.
“Most of the Covid-19 victims are buried before post-mortem is conducted while others not conducted for fear of exposure, which may lead to poor capture of the cause of death” said Ms Mucheru.
Acting Health director-general Patrick Amoth concurred. “We’re going to see a huge number of children who are not immunised in the future, and this means that when an attack, for instance of cholera and measles, occurs, the likelihood of them surviving is minimal. Giving birth at home and denying your child the necessary vaccination is inviting a huge problem in future.”
He assured Kenyans of their safety when visiting hospitals.
“We have ensured that other healthcare services in all our facilities are not interrupted, and taken measures to protect patients against Covid-19 infection at the health facilities,” he said.
To assure women that services are not interrupted, the government last week issued guidelines to ensure services for mothers and children remain accessible.
“Government will continue with routine immunisation services countrywide during the Covid-19 outbreak and will use the smaller, less crowded levels two and three facilities,” the guidelines state.
The drop was also seen at Kenyatta National Hospital. In April 2019, the paediatric emergency unit attended to 3,239 children while this year, only 674. For May, the numbers dropped from 2,905 in 2019 to 390 this year.
At the paediatric immunisation unit, 1,558 children were immunised in April last year, against 889 this year. In May, only 413 children have been immunised, against 1,617 last year.
The case is the same at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital with the facility recording a 60 per cent drop in births.
“In April last year, we had 1,000 births but this has since reduced by 400. Most women are not coming to deliver in hospitals,” Dr Peter Okoth, the hospital’s chief executive officer said.
Ms Mucheru recommends mobilisation of resources to carry out fumigation of records and registries in the country.
“We are also going to mobilise resources to acquire personal protective equipment and sensitise our staff across the country,” Ms Mucheru said.