A new mother recieves support in breastfeeding at a health clinic in Kenya

On May 27, 2020, H.E Wycliffe Oparanya, the Chairperson of the Council of Governors (COG), issued a memorandum to all 47 counties instructing them to continue essential health services including family planning during COVID-19 response efforts. The memorandum calls on the counties to adopt recommendations agreed upon by governors during the full council meeting, including to:

  1. Set up a subcommittee under each County Emergency Response Committee to focus on strategies to maintain essential health service delivery and mitigate the risk of health system collapse;
  2. Adopt and implement the Ministry of Health guidelines for continuity of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and family planning services[1];
  3. Ensure that the supply of essential commodities like family planning methods and long-lasting insecticidal nets is not disrupted;
  4. Sustain messaging for the public on the importance of continuing to seek essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  5. Be on high alert in responding to other emergencies, such as emergency obstetric evacuations, to avoid critical delays in providing lifesaving services.

Kenya reported its first COVID-19 case on March 13th, after which the national and county governments shifted their focus to responding to the pandemic. Consequently, the provision of essential services, including family planning, ceased to be a priority. Within weeks, the national health management information system showed a decrease in the use of family planning, maternal and child health, and other important health services in most counties.

Within this context, Advance Family Planning local partner Jhpiego Kenya reached out to Family Planning 2020 focal points, the COG Secretariat, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene a national stakeholders meeting to address how to continue essential health services while responding to the pandemic.

On April 22nd, the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD), the COG Secretariat, and the Ministry of Health jointly held a virtual stakeholders meeting chaired by the Director General of NCPD, Dr. Sheikh Mohamed, and facilitated by Jhpiego to deliberate how to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on essential health service provision. Participating stakeholders included national and county level government officials; development and implementing partners, including the youth-led organization Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa; the U.S. Agency for International Development; the Department for International Development; the United Nations Population Fund; and academia.

During the convening, the WHO shared a global perspective on continuing essential health services during the pandemic while the Ministry of Health and the COG highlighted the national and subnational experiences in Kenya.

Participants identified key actions for all stakeholders to take forward, including disseminating the new guidelines to health managers, frontline health workers, and other stakeholders; conducting virtual surveys and rapid assessments on essential service provision to inform strategy and decision-making processes; and activating the existing commodity subcommittee of the County Ministers Association to ensure last mile commodity and supply delivery.  

Jhpiego, NCPD, and the COG Secretariat followed up on these recommendations, leading to the Chairperson of the COG’s Health Committee, H.E Dr. Mohammed Kuti, presenting them before the full COG on May 21st. The governors discussed and adopted the recommendations and issued the memorandum within a week.

Partners will continue to follow up with the counties to support implementation of the memorandum. Organizations working to support data collection in the counties will also begin to conduct virtual surveys and rapid assessments to inform decision-making. In the next few weeks, the COG will convene the next national stakeholders meeting to review the counties’ progress.

[1] Ministry of Health (2020). Interim Guidance on Continuity of Essential Health Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.health.go.ke/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/KENYAN-GUIDANCE-ON-CONTINUITY-OF-ESSENTIAL-HEALTH-SERVICES-DURING-THE-COVID-OUTBREAK-20MAY-2020-complete.docx.pdf

Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment. Please note the photo used was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the subjects are not wearing masks.