Aidex Voices

AidEx 2016 exhibitor Al-Khair Foundation (AKF) is one of the UK’s largest Muslim charities, engaging in a variety of programmes involving emergency aid and humanitarian support in 29 countries. In Kenya, their 24-hour Maternal Health Facility is bringing crucial medical support to mothers and newborns in the world’s largest refugee camp. 

For the 330,000 refugees hosted in Kenya’s Dadaab camp, the future is uncertain.

Shelter from the harsh realities of war, conflict and repression is precarious and temporary, but it is the only life some of them have known for years. Over time, refugee camps like these have developed into mini communities, with their micro-economies, social structures and cultural traditions. When you consider that these refugees represent a significant percentage of their host country’s population, it becomes clear how vital it is to support this community’s everyday needs.

One crucial aspect is maternal and neonatal healthcare. Medical facilities and care for pregnant women in Dadaab are sorely lacking, as is educational awareness concerning prenatal and postnatal care. 

This is connected to strong cultural norms embedded in these communities. Many of the women are originally from Somalia, where access to medical support is limited, and where maternal health is surrounded by religious and cultural sensitivities. Most prefer to give birth at home:  attending a clinic for medical care and advice would never cross their minds. Births often take place without the presence of qualified healthcare professionals, which can lead to preventable complications or even maternal and infant death.

Yet as Terri Harris, Africa Programme Officer for Global One and a recent visitor to the facility notes, “for these women, giving birth at home was a norm. Their mothers before them did it — their grandmothers did it, and so would they.” 

Understanding these norms was an indispensable part of AKF’s steps to establish a 24-hour Maternal Health Facility in Dadaab’s Kambioos camp. With its dedicated team of trained nurses and birth attendants, the facility not only provides mothers with a safe and sanitised environment, but also manages this within a local setting, where mothers are given the support they need both pre- and post-delivery. It’s essential to work together with these women to establish trust in maternal health professionals and the care and advice they offer. With 322 successful deliveries so far, the positive impact on both mothers’ and newborns’ health is already visible.

However, with the threat of Dadaab’s closure, empowering refugee communities to look to future possibilities is more important now than ever. AKF believes in helping people help themselves, and in this regard, nothing is more important than the medical care and knowledge given to mothers who can pass this onto the next generation – who may be the ones to move towards a more stable future.