Kenya passes first unified policy for newborn, child, and adolescent health

November 16, 2018 by PATH

For the first time in its history, Kenya has a unified policy to guide its efforts for improving newborn, child, and adolescent health.

Kenya mother and newborn. Photo PATH/Andrew Berends.

The policy addresses the child comprehensively, focusing on the health and development needs during the newborn, early childhood, and adolescent periods. Photo: PATH/Andrew Berends.

The Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (NCAH) Policy 2018, launched today by the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Hon. Sicily Kariuki, marks a milestone in Kenya’s efforts to harmonize delivery of comprehensive healthcare to children from birth through adolescence.

PATH was pleased to play a supporting role to the Ministry of Health in developing the policy, alongside other local and international organizations, and applauds the government for its commitment to seeing the policy through to completion.

Although Kenya has historically had various programs and strategies focused on child health, the NCAH policy is the country’s first comprehensive policy, which will provide a holistic view and much-needed direction and prioritization to the government and other health stakeholders as they strive to promote health and wellbeing and accelerate the reduction of newborn, child, and adolescent deaths.

The NCAH policy is also vital to Kenya’s progress toward global and national goals, particularly its commitment to achieving universal health coverage (UHC) in the next five years - one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Big Four Agenda,” which he has committed to achieving before leaving office.

The policy reflects a number of priorities that PATH has advocated for in Kenya, including a strong grounding in evidence to drive decision-making on health interventions and a call for increased capacity to conduct research at the national and county level. It also directs the government to support testing on the scale-up of innovations to inform policies to address barriers to access. Finally, it incorporates the Nurturing Care approach to early childhood development, which is essential to ensuring that children not only survive, but thrive to reach their full developmental potential.

Despite strong progress on child heath indicators, Kenya still faces challenges in newborn, child, and adolescent health. The NCAH policy identifies the following areas as critical to improving health indicators: increased focus on preventing newborn deaths; closing the gap in immunization coverage; improving nutrition to prevent stunting; promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months; reducing rates of teenage pregnancy; and addressing adolescent reproductive health needs. Despite declines in deaths of children under-five overall, newborn deaths remain stubbornly high, and largely from preventable causes, like prematurity, diarrhea, and pneumonia.

A policy is only impactful if fully implemented, which in a decentralized country like Kenya requires coordination—and accountability—from national to county level. With that in mind, the Ministry of Health has taken several important steps to ensure the policy realizes its full potential impact.

Notably, development of the policy included a year-long process of consultation bringing together key government entities, civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, researchers and academia, professional bodies, county health leaders, and religious institutions. Further, the policy carefully outlines the roles of the Ministry of Health and the county departments of health, so they can be held accountable for action. And—for the first time—in the spirit of “nothing for us, without us,” the policy implementation mechanisms include children and adolescents.

In supporting the policy’s development, PATH drew on its more than two decades of experience working in Kenya. One of PATH’s primary areas of focus has been targeting the threats that keep rates of illness and death stubbornly high among Kenya’s women and children. This includes strengthening systems and mobilizing communities to improve and integrate services for maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health as well as family planning and reproductive health; supporting leaders and health workers to reach more children with lifesaving immunizations; engaging and empowering young Kenyans to make healthy choices; advocating for evidence-based policies and guidelines; and more.

PATH advocates will continue to monitor the NCAH policy to ensure it is fully implemented and delivers on its potential to bring a new era of health for all children in Kenya.

“The completion of Kenya’s first Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health Policy, which we launch today, is a significant milestone for our country as we work on strengthening health systems to respond to the needs of mothers, newborns, children and adolescents across the country.”
— Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya