A boost for maternal health through Boresha scholarships
By Robert Rapando & Lucy Ntongai
Bungoma County is located in Western Kenya and serves a population of close to 1.4million people. Despite the fact that access to healthcare services is critical to good health, most of the rural residents still face a variety of barriers to accessing quality health care. One of the major barriers is the remote location of some of the health facilities which makes it difficult to retain health workers due to poor infrastructure and unavailable social amenities. This poses a human resource challenge to the County Ministry of Health and as a result affects service provision.
“Staff recruited and posted to health facilities in the outskirts of Bungoma County tend to seek transfers or resign after a very short period, and this denies local communities access to health services,” says Mr. John Ndombi a Human Resource Officer in the county health department.
To help address the human resource challenge, Save the Children with funding from Glaxo Smith Kline has partnered with the Bungoma County Government to provide scholarships for students pursuing nursing and midwifery courses in Bungoma County.
The programme targets needy students especially those hailing from the affected remote areas, who have an interest in pursuing nursing and midwifery courses. The goal is to train individuals who are committed to serving in the marginalized areas of the County.. An agreement between Save the Children and Bungoma County Public Service Board stipulates that the board will, employ and bond the graduates for a period of three years. The program aims to improve access to quality and equity of essential health care services for all residents.
Jesse Wangila, 31 is among 31 other students who have benefited from the Boresha scholarship programme. He graduated in June 2016 and is currently volunteering at Bungoma County Referral hospital as he awaits employment.
Jesse’s journey of resilience amidst poverty
A third born in a family of five Jesse says getting education was not easy for him and his siblings: “I often stayed home for lack of school fees, so I was six classes behind compared to my age mates. I completed high school on 2007, but I stayed home afterwards, as my parents could not afford fees to take me to college. All my siblings stayed home and none of us had a job despite completing our O level.”
“In 2008, I got a job at a local carpentry workshop and I was happy as I thought the new job would make my life better. A few months later, my contract was terminated due to low business. I later tried vegetable farming and also kept some poultry.”
Jesse says he used the profits from the poultry rearing to enroll into a technical college. He however dropped out after one semester as he was unable to run the business and study at the same time. “I decided to concentrate on farming and used the profits to support my sister who joined university in 2010. I also started my own carpentry workshop,” says Jesse.
Breakthrough thanks to Boresha scholarships
“Two years later, I had raised Kshs. 60,000 (£462), which I used to join the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC). Given the competitive nature of the college, I did not secure a direct entry to benefit from government sponsorship so I had to pay slightly higher fees as a self-sponsored student. My teachers and fellow students knew I was struggling but they did not have an immediate solution to bail me out. I had to go farm in between the college breaks to raise my fees. This really affected my self-esteem and my concentration on studies,” says Jesse.
Khakina, a Lecturer at Bungoma KMTC, says: “Jesse joined the college when other students had studied for almost a month. Ordinarily, we do not allow such students but in his case, I saw the passion in him and I decided to allow him to join. He seemed disturbed, yet determined to succeed.”
When I saw the Boresha scholarships advert at the college, I applied. At the time, I had a school fees balance of Kshs. 150,000 (£1154) I had previously applied for bursaries without success,” says Jesse
“The Boresha scholarship gave me an opportunity to settle down and concentrate on my studies. Now I see the future from a different angle. I want to change my community for the better. I am happy to say that I am now saving lives despite this ongoing nurse’s strike. My life and that of our community has greatly changed thanks to the Boresha scholarship!” says Jesse.
This interview was conducted at Bungoma County Referral Hospital as Jesse was attending to patients, despite an ongoing nurse’s strike affecting all public health facilities in Kenya. Having completed his college training, Jesse is volunteering at the County referral hospital as he awaits employment by the County government.
Save the Children with funding from GlaxoSmithKline, is implementing a maternal and newborn health project in Bungoma County. The program aims to achieve a reduction in maternal and newborn deaths by 2018, impacting the lives of an estimated 16,468 newborns and 22,550 pregnant women.
Staff shortages especially nurses in rural primary health facilities that provide maternal health services is one of the key reasons that pregnant women and newborns in the county die from preventable causes. Bungoma County has one nurse per 1,904 people. This is considered a ‘critical shortage’ according toWorld Health Organization (WHO), which recommends 2.28 workers per 1,000 people (Bungoma County HRH Strategic Plan, 2017 – 2022).
Noting that availability of academic funding is one of the most pressing needs in higher education today, provision of scholarships then becomes an effective way to allow needy students to attain their educational ambitions while strengthening health service delivery.
The programme has so far supported 32 students. Four have graduated and are currently working at health facilities in various parts of Bungoma County.