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Live From Kenya: Equal Treatment at Birth

Two female bloggers are following the Carbon for Water campaign, an initiative of Vestergaard Frandsen that will distribute 900,000 LifeStraw Family water purifiers to homes in the Western Province of Kenya. These bloggers were winners of the Women Bloggers Deliver contest and seek to tell the stories of how the Carbon for Water campaign is affecting the lives of girls and women.

By: Rachel Cernansky, winner of the Women Bloggers Deliver contest

In rural Kenya, a majority of women give birth at home and without a skilled attendant--often because hospitals, and the transportation to even get to a hospital, are simply too expensive and inaccessible for so many women.

Now imagine the situation for HIV-positive women, who should give birth by C-section to reduce the risk of transmission from mother to child. According to the Ministry of Health, only 65 percent of hospitals in the country provide that procedure. It's also more expensive, so even if it's locally available, it's not always a realistic option.

About 44 percent of women in Kenya deliver with a skilled birth attendant and only one-quarter in Western Province take place in health facilities. Nationwide, one in 39 will die during pregnancy or childbirth.

Vestergaard Frandsen is planning to build a maternity ward at the Emusanda health center in Kakamega, Western Province. We spent the morning at Emusanda yesterday talking with James Okwiri, an HIV/AIDS counselor who has played a large role in eliminating the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in the region, and a few women who are part of the HIV/AIDS support group.

James, who himself thought in 2004 that he would not survive with his illness, is now a thriving, fit man who has gained the respect of the local and international communities alike. He said a top priority of the maternity ward is going to be equal treatment of all patients, regardless of their status. "I advocate for human rights first, and then your status."

The new maternity ward will aim to improve maternal health in the region by encouraging in-hospital childbirth as well as better prenatal care, while also improving care for HIV/AIDS patients. Mothers who receive better medical attention and are more informed about proper medical and child care will ultimately mean their babies have hope for an HIV-free life. Without adequate care, however, basic knowledge is easily overlooked, like the fact that HIV-positive women should give birth by C-section or should never breastfeed her children.

Brenda Opika, a mother of two, did not know she was HIV-positive when she was pregnant. If she'd had more access to prenatal care and had been better informed before giving birth, she said, her now-11-year-old son might not have been born with HIV.

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