Supporting midwifry with the Maasai

Noorkipali Nooloboru is one of the traditional birth attendants in Sitoka village. In the past she would advise women, including her daughter-in-law Christine, to have their babies at home. This was the tradition for Maasai women, despite the risks involved, and she didn’t see any reason for it to change — that is, until Christian Aid’s project started.

Noorkipali has now been retrained as a ‘mother advisor’ by our local partner, the Transmara Rural Development Programme.

‘My mother was a traditional birth attendant. I would watch the other birth attendants to see what they were doing. Then one day there was a woman in labour and there was no one to call to come, so I helped and I did a good job.

‘I don’t know how many children I have delivered. I have delivered most of the babies in this area in the last 20 years. But I don’t know how many that is. Some babies would die, particularly if the mother was sickly.’

Now things are changing. Our partner organises a monthly mobile health clinic in the village and one of Noorkipali’s new roles as a mother attendant is to refer women for their antenatal check-ups. That way, if there are any complications in the pregnancy they can be spotted early on. As part of her training, Noorkipali has learned the importance of women delivering at a health clinic or hospital, where they can get expert medical care if something goes wrong.

‘I am old now and I know what it means for a mother or child to die because care was not taken. So I support the nurses and mothers. I help keep the community alive.’

Noorkipali works with the local community health workers, such as Dennis Dio, pictured left. Hers is an important role because of the trust and respect the villagers have for her. ‘The husbands always come to me to confirm whether it is okay for their wives to be checked by the nurses. Once the pregnant mothers get a referral from the community health workers, the men bring it to me. Without my approval they will refuse to allow their wives to be checked. So we have worked out a relationship where they refer and I confirm.

‘Sometimes when the pregnancy is at risk I conduct the delivery myself, but only when the ambulance is far away and I see the baby and mother are at risk. I conduct palpation and massage the stomach to feel where the baby is – this helps me to decide whether the delivery is due.’

Only 44 per cent of births in Kenya are attended by a trained health professional. In Narok County, where Sitoka is found, that figure falls to just 17.6 per cent.

There are many reasons why women in Kenya tend not to give birth in hospital. And in communities like Sitoka, if a woman gets into difficulties during the birth there is no trained help to hand. So having trusted women like Noorkipali to refer women to health facilities is one of the ways Christian Aid is ensuring more women deliver in safe surroundings.