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Walking the halls of Kenyatta Hospital

In the halls of Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi, there is a constant stream of people hustling from one place to another. You are jostled down the corridors, up the stairs, with a sense of urgency in your step but also a sense of belonging. Kenyatta is the largest public referral hospital in Nairobi and takes in patients from all over Kenya. Groups of Kenyans arrive, worn out from long journeys in search of medical help unavailable to them in their communities. 

As I stand in the labour ward of Kenyatta, the presence of soon-to-be mothers reminds me of the miracle of birth that connects women across the globe. Less comforting is the knowledge that in Kenya, many of these women and their babies die unnecessarily. The Maker Movement, a collaborative initiative between Concern Worldwide, JSI International, Kenyatta Hospital and FabLabs at the University of Nairobi, seeks to locally design, source and manufacture medical equipment for maternal and newborn health. This innovative program brings together engineers, researchers and medical professionals to tackle a major gap in the provision, creation and distribution of low cost, open source and sustainable medical devices in Kenya. The literature indicates that a majority of medical devices and equipment in Kenya’s hospitals lie dormant and are underutilised.

While I waited for my meeting at Kenyatta, a woman next to us lies on a stretcher groaning in pain. At that moment, her water breaks. She sits in her amniotic fluid, having major contractions. The woman struggles to get off her stretcher and starts shuffling back and forth in front of the nurse’s station. When she finally gets the nurse’s attention, she’s sternly asked what she wants, as if that’s not entirely clear. She wants to have her baby. What she needs to do that, however, is a supported medical workforce that has the tools, training and capacity to make sure both the woman and her baby get through this process safely.  

The ThinkPlace Kenya team worked with the Maker Movement to create more efficient and effective progress in their development of Kenya’s healthcare system.  We ran a human-centered design workshop with their key players, focusing on human-centered design. The aim of the workshop was to show how participants can work together, drawing on empathetic listening, process mapping and brainstorming. 

Back in Kenyatta, the nurse makes the woman in labour, sit on the floor, groaning with the strength of her contractions and I moved away to give her a semblance of privacy. I’m not sure what happened to that particular woman and her baby, but a few days later I heard a story about a baby that was born with its intestines on the outside of its body. Maybe in a fully equipped hospital it would have survived, but in Kenyatta, it didn’t last the week. At that moment, I felt the importance of the Maker Movement and other innovative initiatives like it, that are driven by the indisputable need to focus on maternal and newborn health in Kenya and throughout the region.