Free Maternity Care in Kenya: What is it Worth?

Jane Otai, a 2013 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, says that it is good that the Kenyan government will now provide free maternity health care for all its citizens, however it is also imperative to ensure that free care equals quality care.

The New York Times recently reported on the astonishingly high cost of giving birth in America, where the average pregnancy costs more than US$35,000. Meanwhile, in my country of Kenya, the newly appointed government has completely eliminated this cost. For Kenyan mothers, giving birth is now free.

As a public health worker and academic focusing on reproductive health in Kenya’s urban slums, I see this as a positive step. After all, Kenya currently has a Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) of 488 per 100,000 live births per year, in large part because women do not give birth under a skilled health provider. Something has to change and free maternity care seems like a good place to start.

But as someone with over 15 years of experience talking with women and families in Kenya’s informal settlements…

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