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Author Archives: Michael Okunson

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Address the unmet need for family planning in Siaya County

Category : Naya , Naya Blog

By: Michael Okunson Oliech

Meet Anyango, 23-year-old mother of six from Siaya County. She is the second born and the only girl in their family of five. She experienced what so many girls in Siaya County go through while growing up in rural areas. Due to scarcity of money in their family and considering the fact that boys are given first priority when it comes to education, she was forced to drop out of school, went on to marry and have six kids with a boda boda operator aged 28 in the first five years of their marriage. Anyango was only 17 when she got married.

As her family started to grow larger, Anyango started to worry about providing food, good health and education for her family. She didn’t want to see her children suffer. She wanted the best for her children.

“I saw that the children were becoming more, and I could not afford to take care of them. This is when I decided to visit the hospital where I was introduced to intrauterine device to help me plan for my family.” She says

Anyango was so moved on how the family planning method of her choice helped her take control of her body, her future and life.

“Without family planning I would have had eight children by now and I would be languishing in poverty with my family.” She says. Anyango adds that her husband has been supportive throughout this process and has never looked back.

“Family planning has helped us to plan for our six children. Even though we have a large family we can at least afford to feed them well, we can clothe them, we can educate them and provide them with primary health care. If we had the information earlier about family planning and its benefits, we could have had few children like two. Life here in the village is very difficult when you have so many children but when you have one child or two or none, it’s at least better” She says.

Anyango is lucky she had access to family planning information and services, but for some thousands of women in Siaya County who want to avoid or delay pregnancy, they cannot do so because they have no access to modern forms of contraception or family planning. The unmet need for family planning in Siaya County stands at 25%. This means that almost a quarter of women in this county lack the basic human right to plan for their family and future.

Since health is devolved, there is need for the county government of Siaya under the leadership of His Excellency Governor Rasanga to prioritize meeting women’s and their partner’s need for family planning through investing more in voluntary, safe, effective, acceptable, accessible, affordable, high quality, family planning information and services that respect human rights.

Family planning is a win-win intervention that can help enhance economic development in the county. When women and girls who want to use contraception are empowered and educated to use contraceptive method of their choice, they will be able to take control of their lives. Family planning allows girls and women to stay in school, pursue their career and have children when they are ready, it improves child and maternal health, reduces unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, HIV infection rates, and poverty.


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I am more than my sexuality

Category : Naya , Naya Blog

By Michael Okun Oliech

I was born and raised in Kenya. I am a teacher, a voter, your neighbour, a student, a doctor, a parent, a police officer, an entrepreneur, a friend, a lawyer a judge, a policy maker just to mention a few. I am a law abiding citizen and I always pay my taxes on time. I participate in nation building activities but still you choose to hate because of my sexuality.

I breathe in the same air that you breathe, if you cut my hand you will see blood and not water coming out. I have a heart and feelings too just like you but you choose to treat me like an outcast. Am not human in your eyes. ​

You use religion to justify your actions towards me. You humiliate me by calling me names, you attack me, you lock me up behind bars in the name of religion but isn’t it ironical? Your religion advocates for peace, love and unity and yet you do the opposite.

You claim that I am a sinner and you cannot associate with me but didn’t Jesus associate with sinners in the bible? Didn’t He show them love and compassion. Are you better than Jesus?

It unfair to call me evil and yet I have never violated your rights. There are plenty of evil people around you such as thieves, rapists, murderers, corrupt officials but you turn a blind eye to them and only see me as a threat.

Why judge me based on my sexuality? The pope was here last year and I remember he said we should never judge people for we are not God. You say am embracing the western culture and interfering with African culture but my question is if you claim to value the African culture, why then are you dressing like the westerners, listening to their music, using their language to communicate, driving their cars? You have copied everything from the westerners but you are quick to judge me.

I was born this way and it is not my fault. You have to understand that we all have different sexual preferences. My sexual preference might not be appealing to you but you have to respect it. I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at all times.

I am human and I get hurt when my rights are violated. Please stop all the hate you have towards me. I should not be judged based on my sexuality. The moment you do that you miss the good side of us. Please understand that my sexuality is not a disease. You cannot catch it when you are next to me or when you talk to me. I might have a different sexual preference but on the inside am not different from you. I am human. Show some love and kindness to all the LGBT in Kenya.


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Tackle Teenage Pregnancy in Kisumu County

Category : Naya , Naya Blog

By: Michael Okun Oliech

The chirping birds signals the dawn of a new day, young boys and girls of Kaila village in Seme sub county rising up to go to school but for Achieng (not her real name) it signals the dawn of washing old rags turned in cloth dippers for her baby.

At 16 years old she should be walking in the line between childhood and adulthood but she is already a mother. In 2017 Achieng joined form one at a local day school in east seme ward. The morning and evening walks with a boy from the same school turned into a relationship and it didn’t take long before she found out she was pregnant. She had to drop out of school and remained at home until she was due and delivered her baby. “I have stayed away from school for more than ten months and I intend to go back to school next year thanks to my parents who have been supporting me with the little that they have.” Achieng speaks

Achieng is not alone, she tells me four of her female friends are already pregnant and have dropped out of school and two of them have already been married off.

Most girls in seme sub county get pregnant before their 9th grade and find it difficult in balancing between parenthood and school life ending up dropping out of school. Only a few girls resolve to return back to school and pursue their education after getting pregnant. Besides curtailing girl child education, teenage pregnancy is associated with high maternal and child mortality and morbidity.

Statistics from the Kenya Demographic health survey 2014 has given a picture of girls whose education has been cut short due to early pregnancy. 15% of girls aged 15-19 years in Kisumu County have begun childbearing. Specifically, 3.1% are pregnant with their first child and 12.4% have ever given birth.

Stake holders in the education sector attributes the trend of teenage pregnancy among young girls due to the  rise of bodaboda riders who take advantage of the young girls after giving them free ride to school, poverty, disco matangas and inadequate sexual and reproductive health information and services.

More reproductive health interventions such as availing high quality age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education in and out of schools, offering free and high quality reproductive health services and awareness creation among men and women needs to be put in place in order to keep girls and boys in school.

There is also need for Governor Anyang Nyongo to implement his manifesto to the latter. One of the pledges he made in his manifesto was to carry out reproductive health education in communities, especially among the youth and provide safe contraceptives and to offer education on their use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. So far this is yet to be done and I urge him to live up to his promise.


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FAMILY PLANNING CAN SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE ABORTIONS

Category : Naya Blog

Women who do not want to become pregnant but do not use any contraception may resort to abortion whether it is legal or not. According to the ministry of health, there are about 500,000 abortions every year in Kenya and half of these abortions are usually unsafe. 21,000 women are admitted each year due to complications from unsafe abortion and out of those admitted 2,600 eventually die. Unsafe abortion accounts for 25% of maternal mortality in Kenya.

Behind nearly every abortion In Kenya is an unwanted pregnancy.  More than 40% of all pregnancies are unplanned or unintended. Approximately 60% of Kenya women have access to modern contraceptives.  Women with unmet need for family planning account for the high numbers of abortion.

Access to quality, affordable, voluntary, stigma free and wide range of family planning services can significantly reduce abortions. Research in various countries demonstrates that women with access to good and quality family planning services are more likely to use contraception, are less likely to have unintended pregnancies, and thus have fewer abortions. Where family planning services are introduced and promoted, abortion-related deaths decline as contraceptive use rises. There is need for both county and national governments to invest more in free and quality family planning

By Michael Okun Oliech


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LET GIRLS BE GIRLS,  NOT MOTHERS

Category : Naya Blog

Kenya has made huge strides and progress when it comes to the health and education of women and girls. In spite of the tremendous progress made, adolescent and teenage girls still remain the most vulnerable group in this country. Teenage pregnancy is one of the main problems affecting the social, economic and political progress, empowerment, health and education of young women and girls of this country.
The teenage pregnancy and motherhood rate in Kenya stands at 20% (KDHS 2014). This implies that about 1 in every 5 teenage girls between the ages of 15-19 years, have either had a live birth or are pregnant with their first child. KDHS 2014 indicates that these rates have remained unchanged since 2008, implying  that many girls continue to drop out of school, continue to experience health related challenges including mortality and morbidity due to birth related complications and unsafe abortion and are in some instances forced into early marriages.
According to the ministry of education, 13,000 girls drop out of school annually due to teenage pregnancy.
Counties with the highest burden of Teenage Pregnancy and Motherhood above National average of 18% include Narok 40%, Homabay 33%, Migori 24%, Siaya 38%, Westpokot 29%, and Tanariver 28%.(KDHS 2014)
Poverty, harmful cultural practices such as child marriages, lack of education including education on sexual and reproductive health, sexual abuse or violence, barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health services and early sexual initiation are some of the main drivers of teenage pregnancy and motherhood in Kenya.
This cannot be the future that we prepare for our daughters. To address the challenge of teenage pregnancy and motherhood and its adverse consequences:
Both County and National governments and non-state actors, should integrate age appropriate comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education/ information into the school curriculum and other platforms such as health facilities, youth empowerment centres, churches and mosques.  Information is power. With the right information, young people are more likely to make informed choices concerning their sexual and reproductive health and rights hence reduce teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
The government should fully implement and enforce all relevant laws and policies that address the issue of teenage pregnancy. These laws and policies include: the constitution (article 43 [1]), the sexual offence act 2006, the children act 2011, the National Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health Policy (ASRH 2015), the National Reproductive Health Policy and the Education Sector Policy on HIV and AIDS (2013).
Since health is devolved, county governments should ensure that public health facilities are adolescent and youth friendly and are equipped with essential medical supplies including contraception free of charge at all times.
Campaigns and community dialogues to address harmful cultural practices such as child marriages, FGM and disco matangas, which drive teenage pregnancy, should be initiated by both county and national government.

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Access to comprehensive abortion care will avert maternal deaths

Category : Naya Blog

Globally 220 million women would like to prevent or delay pregnancy but have no access to contraception. As a result 22 million unsafe abortions are estimated to take place annually resulting in the permanent injury of 5 million women and the death of approximately 48,000 women annually.

In Kenya unsafe abortion has long been recognized as a leading cause of death and injury to women. According to the ministry of health, unsafe abortion accounts for 25% of maternal deaths in Kenya.

Abortion need not to be unsafe. Safe abortion can and should be available and accessible to women to the full extent that the Kenyan law allows.

Article 26(4) of the 2010 Kenya constitution states that- Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.

Even under circumstances where it is permitted to save the life or health of the mother or in the opinion of a trained health professional, abortion should always be done safely.

Access to comprehensive abortion care which comprises of induced safe abortion, post abortion care and contraceptives services could avert preventable maternal mortality and morbidity.

By Michael Okun Oliech


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A woman has a right to choose to control her own body

Category : Naya Blog

A Pregnancy is one of the determinative aspects of a woman’s life.  Pregnancy disrupts a woman’s body, it disrupts her education, it disrupts her career, it disrupts her employment and disrupts her entire family life. Because of these impacts of pregnancy to a woman’s life, we should let women decide or choose whether to keep a pregnancy or terminate it.

Every human being has the right to own their bodies and no one has the right to dictate to you on what to do with your body. Women have a moral right to decide on what to do with their bodies and what stays inside their bodies. A fetus is part of the woman’s body and therefore a woman has the right to abort the fetus when she feels she is not ready to be a mother.

No woman can call herself free until when she is able to choose consciously without the influence of external factors on whether to be a mother or not.  If a woman has no power over when and how she has sex and when and how she bears children, she will not be able to realize and achieve her full rights to own her body including the right to decide whether or not to carry a fetus to birth.

Women need the right to choose and to make decisions about what they do to their bodies and deserve safe methods of doing the things they want to do. Equality is nonexistent if the body of a woman is left in the hands of a man or the government.

By Michael Okun Oliech


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Kenya must address unmet need for family planning

Maternal health should be in Uhuru’s Four priority list

Category : Naya Blog

Kenya has made remarkable steps in improving the maternal health of its women and in reducing maternal mortality rates in the last decade. According to the Kenya demographic health survey 2014, Kenya’s maternal mortality stands at 362 deaths per 100,000 live births a decline from 520 deaths per 100,000 live births during 2008/2009. Six out of ten pregnant women can now receive skilled care during childbirth and over half of pregnant women do get postnatal care.

However, despite these remarkable gains made, many women continue to suffer or die from conditions which are preventable or treatable. In Kenya a woman dies after every two hours during pregnancy or childbirth (UNFPA Kenya). Access to maternal health care services is still a challenge across all levels of care in both urban and rural areas. We can continue to reduce chances of maternal deaths by addressing access to quality maternal and reproductive health care services and information.

It is clear that a lot still needs to be done by both county and national government to eliminate all preventable maternal deaths and improve health outcomes in this country in order to realize the goals of vision 2030 and the constitution (article 43-1a) which clearly articulates for the right for health including reproductive health. Improving coverage and access to quality maternal and reproductive health care services must be a priority for both county and national government.

Childbirth should be happy moment for families and communities not misery. No woman should die while giving life or birth. We must ensure all childbirth are safe. Good maternal and reproductive health is every woman’s right. Nothing should be as important to a nation than the health of its women because healthy women are the backbone of their families and communities.

By Michael Okun Oliech


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MINISTRY OF HEALTH SHOULD ADOPT STANDARD GUIDELINES FOR REDUCING MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY FOR UNSAFE ABORTION.

Category : Naya Blog

The ministry of health decision to withdraw the standard guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality for unsafe abortion in 2012 here in Kenya has undermined the constitutional right of women to receive the highest attainable standard of health care services reproductive health include. Safe abortion is a component of reproductive health and it is a human right.
By withdrawing these standard guidelines, the government has made thousands of women suffer and die needlessly from severe complications caused by unsafe abortion. Each day 7 women die needlessly due to unsafe abortion here in Kenya.  It has also left the health professionals in public hospitals afraid to offer comprehensive abortion care services to women seeking safe abortion services due to fear of arrest and this has forced these women to seek the services of quacks which has led them to face serious risks and damage to their health and wellbeing.
These injuries and deaths caused by unsafe abortion can be prevented and must be prevented. By restoring the standard guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality for unsafe abortion and allowing women to access safe, legal, free and high quality comprehensive abortion services which comprises of post abortion care, induced abortion and contraceptive services, we could avert thousands of deaths and injuries caused by unsafe abortion here in Kenya.
Nothing should be as important to a nation than the health and rights of its women. Where women are healthy and their rights are provided for, not only their families but the entire nation flourishes. It is time the ministry of health took decisive actions to protect the health, rights and future of women before more women are harmed by its dangerous decisions and stands  against abortion.

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LEGALIZE SAFE ABORTION IN KENYA

Category : Naya Blog

According to the African Population and Health Research Centre, Unsafe abortion remains one of the five leading causes of maternal morbidity and mortality in Kenya with close to half a million women undergoing unsafe abortions yearly (464,690). More than half of all abortions are performed unsafely, with herbs, coat hangers, spoons, knitting needles and harmful pharmaceuticals.

With the population increase, the study also indicates that 40-45% of the pregnancies in Kenya are unplanned

The study further shows that of the country’s eight regions, Nyanza recorded the second highest number of abortion cases at 36,842 with rift valley leading at 38,687.

Majority of the women who procure unsafe abortion are young and poor and end up with serious health complications or dead.

Lack of information and comprehensive sexuality education, failure to access quality and affordable contraceptives of their choice, punitive abortion laws and lack of safe abortion services are some of the factors that push women to seek unsafe abortion services.

The deaths and injuries caused by unsafe abortion can be prevented and must be prevented. It is time for the Ministry of Health to take decisive action to protect the health, lives, families, and future of Kenyan women before more women are needlessly harmed by unsafe abortion and its punitive abortion laws and policies.

Kenya did sign and ratify Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa that among other things provides and expands grounds for safe abortion. Article 2 of the Kenyan constitution states that the general rules of international law shall form part of the law of Kenya. I call upon the government of Kenya to lift its reservations on international laws that champion for protection of women’s reproductive health and rights by authorizing safe abortion.

There is also need for the government to offer age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to all children in and out of school. Comprehensive sexuality education that would significantly contribute to prevention of unintended and unplanned pregnancies is lacking in schools and homes, thus exposing vulnerable girls and women to unwanted pregnancies and complications arising from unsafe abortion. Parents and guardians need to be at the forefront to complement the work of teachers and other organizations on sexuality education.

Punitive abortion laws also needs to be reviewed and amended. When abortion is illegal, the risks increase for women. Research around the world shows that when governments restrict abortion, women still have abortions. They just have more dangerous ones. According to a UN report, the average unsafe abortion rate was more than four times greater in countries with restrictive abortion policies than in countries with liberal abortion policies.

Contraceptive services that are acceptable, appropriate and user-friendly should also be available at all time and accessible to women and girls regardless of their status in the society.

The media and other stakeholders should develop and come up with effective awareness programs on contraceptives, comprehensive sexuality education, and safe abortion, among others.

Lastly both county and the national governments should increase budgetary allocation for contraceptives, post abortion care, safe abortion, comprehensive sexuality education and for continuous training of health workers and their provision of services.

Denying a woman access to the critical health care she needs can lead to devastating consequences in her life, her family, her community, and Kenyan society as a whole.

Safe abortion is a woman right. A woman has a right to decide whether to keep or terminate a pregnancy and denying her this right one would be violating her human right. It’s time for Kenya to fully respect women’s rights. Pregnant women and girls need to be able to make decisions about abortion, without the threat of criminal penalties.

By Michael Okun Oliech (@MikeOkunson)