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WOMAN OF PASSION: Supporting parents through child loss

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By SONI KANAKE
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Wanjiru Kihusa’s loss of two of her unborn babies birthed, ‘Still A Mum’, an organisation that supports parents who have experienced child loss. She shares her journey with Soni Kanake.

Wanjiru Kihusa, 30, was devastated when she lost her daughter at 20 weeks of pregnancy in 2013.

“After the loss, I noticed the gaps that existed in the area of new-born deaths. People did not know how to be there for me and relatives spread rumours as to what must have caused the miscarriage,” explains Wanjiru.

She was mourning the loss of her child but says she felt nobody understood what she was going through. “Counsellors know in theory how to handle a bereaved person but none I encountered had walked with someone after the loss of a baby,” says Wanjiru.

Armed with a Master’s degree in communications and PR and a Bachelor’s degree in IT, she was working at an IT firm as a client service manager at the time.

“I needed to understand and get healing from the pain I was going through so I quit my job and started researching,” says Wanjiru.

“I started blogging about my experience and generally on child loss, and offered advice on how to support someone who has lost a baby. My blogs and social media posts led to many inbox messages and physical meeting with parents who had experienced child loss.

“I felt I needed to do more so I started Still A Mum, an organisation that supports parents who have gone through child loss. I researched online, which gave me insight. I added that information to what I already had acquired to start my organisation,” explains Wanjiru.

Wanjiru and her husband suffered a second miscarriage in 2014. She was broken. In 2015 the couple received more bad news as Wanjiru was diagnosed with bilateral blocked fallopian tubes. This was devastating and drained her emotionally.

“We opted for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in January 2016, which unfortunately failed,” explains Wanjiru. “Later that year, in October 2016, during our tree planting event to mark pregnancy and infant loss day, I discovered I was pregnant,” says an excited Wanjiru.

However, she had a difficult pregnancy and was on complete bed rest during the last 10 weeks of her pregnancy. “Our son was born in June last year. It really was a miracle!” she exclaims.

The founder and CEO of Still A Mum is a maternal and newborn health champion. She is a huge believer in using social media for social change and as such she runs child loss awareness campaigns on radio, TV and Facebook.

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“We are based in Nairobi but we have supported parents from all over Kenya and even other countries such as Cameroon, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria,” says Wanjiru.

“We provide psychosocial support to mums and dads who have gone through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death,” she explains. We also seek to reduce maternal and new-born deaths through our Mama Zawadi Initiative. We bring together pregnant women and their partners and teach them healthy pregnancy practices, safe delivery and new-born care,” she says.

The organisation also creates awareness on child loss. “There are a lot of myths surrounding the death of a baby and we provide factual information as well as teach society how to support bereaved parents.”

In addition, they also mark the ‘Pregnancy and Infant Loss Week’ every year. “We are currently partnering with Kijabe Hospital and Nairobi Hospital to provide follow up counselling to parents after discharge, run in-house support groups, train counsellors on grief and bereavement associated with child loss and Respectful Bereavement Care Training – how to treat parents immediately after a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. We have recently launched our inaugural Still A Mum Awards. These are to celebrate phenomenal mums and dads and companies that make their life easier.”

Two years ago, Wanjiru won the World Summit Youth Award for her work with SDG 3 (health and well-being).

“Still A Mum, which is the only African organisation that is a member of the International Stillbirth Alliance has been nominated twice for BAKE Awards (2016 and 2017). In 2017 we were nominated in two categories – Women empowerment and Blog of Year. We recently hit the 1,000 mark! This means we have supported 1,000 mums and dads who have gone through child loss. This is a huge milestone for me,” explains Wanjiru.

Wanjiru experienced burn out running the organisation on her own and so she has now put a team together and dele-gates more. “I also have board members; this has enriched our work greatly.”

“There is the need to change the perception most people have on counselling and therapy. Reaching out to men is also challenging as many dads are grieving but they don’t think they need any help. We are exploring ways to engage the men. Funding is also a challenge as we haven’t received any grants yet due to the stringent requirements. I’m looking into more sustainable options for our organisation,” she says.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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