Improving Newborn Health through Health Systems Strengthening and Kangaroo Mother Care

CMMB Kenya reached 23,557 children under-five-years old and 5,222 pregnant women with health and social services in 2021.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, Nov 17, 2021 – An estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11 seconds. Kenya has a very high maternal mortality rate, and over 90 percent of all newborn deaths are preventable. In response, CMMB has increased investments in health system strengthening to address maternal and child health inequities and to reduce preventable deaths.

This year, CMMB built, equipped, and staffed three maternity wards with delivery rooms and postnatal care rooms in Kitui County, Kenya. CMMB also equipped and staffed two newborn units—doubling the capacity of the entire county for immediate newborn care. In addition to investments in infrastructure, training healthcare workers has been crucial.

CMMB Kenya has trained 220 healthcare workers to build their skills in emergency obstetrics and in early essential and newborn care. “We know that skilled care before, during and after childbirth can make the difference in health outcomes. It is critical for reducing maternal and newborn illness and deaths,” said Dr. James Kisia, Country Director of CMMB Kenya.

“Skilled birth attendants are saving lives, often through low-cost and high impact interventions. For example, babies born prematurely typically need help with temperature regulation. These infants often go into traditional incubators, but CMMB Kenya also employs another intervention called kangaroo mother care. Our healthcare workers teach new mothers to hold their babies on their chest skin-to-skin and to exclusively breast feed, when possible. This naturally helps regulate the baby’s temperature and improves their chances of survival,” said Dr. Kisia.

Research shows that starting kangaroo mother care immediately after birth can save up to 150,000 more lives each year. Growing evidence also indicates it can save more lives than traditional incubator care.

“In Kenya and around the world, women and newborns are dying of diseases that we can treat,” said Mary Beth Powers, president and CEO of CMMB. “Globally, most maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented through access to basic health services and emergency obstetric care when needed. To save more mothers and babies, we need to address the root causes of health inequity by creating health facilities and training staff to respond to community concerns and needs—life saving practices only work when people are willing and able to use them. Kangaroo mother care is an intervention that is low cost and integrates well with local cultural practices.”

“The early effects of CMMB’s work for women and newborn children in Kenya are promising. But decades of progress are at stake right now. Recent research shows the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a rise in maternal deaths and stillbirths. We need to redouble efforts now or the world will not be able to meet the sustainable development goals for maternal and child health,” said Ms. Powers.

CMMB has worked in Kenya since 2006. The country office has a strong track record of strengthening health systems, implementing maternal and child health programs, and providing quality HIV prevention care, treatment, and support services. CMMB Kenya supports Our Lady of Lourdes Mutomo Mission Hospital in Kitui County. Opened in 1964, the hospital is the only referral hospital in the region and serves over 195,000 people in the county.

Dr. James Kisia and Mary Beth Powers are available for a limited number of interviews. For questions about the information contained within this press release or about CMMB and its programs, please contact the Director of Communications, Luke Dougherty at

About CMMB

CMMB (Catholic Medical Mission Board) provides long-term medical and development aid to communities affected by poverty and unequal access to healthcare. Focusing on women’s and children health, we deliver sustainable health services in Peru, Haiti, Kenya, South Sudan, and Zambia. For over a century, we have worked to strengthen and support communities through healthcare programs and initiatives, the placement of volunteers, and the distribution of medicines and medical supplies. CMMB has delivered over 3,000 shipments to 88 countries over the last ten years, with a total value of more than $4 billion worth of medical aid.

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