Kenya has experienced significant political and economic changes in recent years. The 2002 defeat of the KANU political party — which had been in power since independence in 1963 — marked a historic shift from one-party rule to a competitive multi-party democracy.
While the new government acted quickly to tackle major problems like prohibitively expensive primary school fees, it has been largely ineffective at stemming corruption throughout the administration. In 2003 primary school was made free and virtually overnight, enrollment jumped from six million to 7.2 million. The economy has been on an upswing, with growth increasing an average of nearly six percent over the past four years.
Despite these gains, life is hard for most Kenyans. More than half the population lives in poverty, and Kenya is ranked 148 out of 177 in the UN's index of human poverty and development. Corruption and crime are rampant, reflecting ineffectual actions by government to deal with both, while rapid urbanization is crippling the infrastructure.
In addition, serious health challenges remain. Although the HIV infection rate has stabilized, it remains a serious problem in the country. While 1.3 million people are living with the disease, tens of thousands more become infected each year. Women are at particularly high risk, comprising 68 percent of those infected. And like many of its neighbors, pregnancy and childbirth remain high risk for women in Kenya: for every 100,000 children that are born, 1,000 women die as a result, and approximately one out of every 19 women in Kenya dies from maternity-related causes.
PPFA in Kenya
One of the leading causes of maternal death and disability in Kenya is unsafe abortion. Abortion is restricted so women are forced to seek the procedure underground, where conditions are often unhygienic and providers are not trained. Despite the legal and health risks, roughly 700 illegal abortions occur every day.
The work of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in Kenya currently focuses on reducing maternal death and disability by increasing the availability of affordable safe abortion services and supporting advocates to decriminalize abortion in the country. We also support youth organizations to integrate critically needed HIV/AIDS and reproductive health components into their programs.
The provision of abortion services is widespread in Kenya but many providers do not have adequate training in safe techniques. PPFA partners with the Kisumu Medical Education and Trust (KMET), a courageous organization that supports a network of more than 300 health care providers, to improve the safety of abortion and post-abortion care through clinical training, assistance in procuring equipment, and enhancing the security of clinics to protect clients and providers from frequent harassment by the police and public.
PPFA supports the Kenya Reproductive Health Rights Alliance (RHRA), a group of advocates from the medical, legal, women's rights, and human rights communities that was formed in order to improve maternal health conditions in Kenya by securing reproductive health laws and policies that promote women's health. It was initiated in 2003 in response to the arrest of three medical providers on false charges of committing murder through abortion.
The alliance came together to defend the three providers, and ultimately played a critical role in securing their freedom. It is currently conducting activities to increase awareness about the consequences of unsafe abortion, including developing a documentary, working with the media, and drafting reproductive health provisions for the revised national constitution.
Youth in Kenya are at high risk of unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, these are not their only concerns. Poverty, violence, and lack of jobs are also challenges. PPFA has partnered with Carolina for Kibera (CFK), a youth organization whose mission is to promote youth leadership and ethnic and gender cooperation through sports, young women's empowerment, and community development.
CFK is based in Kibera, a large slum in the capital of Nairobi where there is no paving, lighting and electricity are scarce, and sanitation is virtually nonexistent. Recognizing the vulnerable situation of many youth in Kibera, PPFA partnered with CFK to incorporate HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health education and services into their existing youth program.
With PPFA's support, CFK is expanding its HIV/AIDS testing and counseling program, and has established a cadre of trained youth peer educators who serve as a resource on sexuality and HIV/AIDS for other youth in their community. They make themselves available at all hours of the day and night to answer questions and give out condoms, and they conduct educational sessions and events around their community.
In addition to benefiting their peers, the educators get a great deal out of the program. They report that the work experience boosts their job prospects, they are respected by their peers, and they have extensive knowledge to protect themselves against HIV.