Solar tracking bracelets protect nomadic Kenyan mothers and babies

As health workers approached a huge acacia tree that would provide shade for a makeshift clinic, more than 50 women and 30 children were already waiting for them.

Local enthusiasm for the monthly check-up made the habitual blasts on the car horn unnecessary in Yabalo Godha village, 40 minutes’ drive from the market town of Moyale on Kenya’s northern border with Ethiopia.

This semi-arid area in Marsabit County is home to herding communities whose animals roam the vast landscape – and its remoteness makes healthcare provision tough.

In a bid to improve services for nomadic women, about 50 solar-powered bracelets with Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers have been given to expectant mothers.

The furthest recipient is in Laqi, almost 100 km (62 miles) away from Moyale’s central business district, where there is no hospital or school.

When the itinerant healthcare trial began in February last year, 168 expectant mothers were enrolled at 10 sites, mostly in pastoral communities selected by local leaders.

The health team informs a community volunteer or village head when a doctor, nurse and nutritionist will visit, bringing medicines.

Each trip has attracted about 150 mothers seeking healthcare, some furnished with GPS bracelets and some without, said Dahabo Adi Galgallo, an epidemiologist at Moyale Sub-County Hospital who started the project.

On the Yabalo visit in April, three of seven women in the area with GPS bracelets showed up.

Two others were nearby, the tracking system showed, while two had crossed the border into Ethiopia.

“Due to international laws, we can only monitor them and provide help when they come back,” Galgallo said.

After a five-hour session taking blood and urine samples and screening for diseases including sexually transmitted infections, Galgallo’s tests revealed 25 new pregnant mothers.

“The numbers get bigger with each visit,” she said, showing no signs of fatigue.

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