In rural Kenya, a pregnant woman could suffer from mental illness and not realize she is unwell. At her local hospital, she might have access to prenatal or postnatal care. Here, she might be asked if she took her Iron but not how she is coping, placing her at greater risk of suicide or harming her newborn.
With a desire to help women facing these challenges, two young Kenyan women are working on an innovative initiative to support Kenyan mothers struggling with mental health.
Faith Kipkemboi and Nasike Grace Jandii are behind Cactus Mama – a telemental health program that will avail rural Kenyan women of mental health services during and after their pregnancy within their communities. Faith, 24, is a nursing student and Mastercard Foundation Scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, selected to the scholarship for her academic, social consciousness, and leadership qualities. Grace, 22, studies Medicine and Surgery at Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya.
“I was externing at a hospital in Iten, Kenya,” explained Faith. “Around 5pm, we admitted a mum struggling with postpartum psychosis. We gave her medication to calm her. There was no mental health specialist until the next day at 11am.The mum had a beautiful 8months old baby girl who was crying, but you couldn’t hear the infant cry. The baby’s eyes were dry; and the mother’s baby shawl soaked in urine. As my nursing mentor took the mum to the ward, I took the baby and walked her to the quiet area. I rocked her side by side; she slept. We had no private room and they stayed in the general female ward with other patients – some with wounds, others on drips for malaria, and some suffering from tuberculosis. As I took her to sleep near her mum, as another caregiver watched them, I was in high distress.”
This interaction, inspired Cactus Mama.
Faith started cultivating ideas to address the limited resources for maternal mental health among Kenyan women.
“I started consulting my nursing professors at McGill. At this time, I learnt of Reprodrive, where Grace Jandii was actively advocating for better menstrual hygiene while providing sanitary products to girls. I contacted her and Cactus Mama was born”, said Faith.
Perinatal mood disorders are mental health conditions that occur during or after pregnancy and include postpartum depression while the most extreme is postpartum psychosis. According to Postpartum Support International, said Grace, 15 percent of women across the globe battle perinatal mood disorders severe enough to prevent them from caring for themselves and their babies. One in 8 mothers experiences serious depression or anxiety during or after pregnancy.
In some of our communities, mental health conditions are still associated with witchcraft, while mothers battling mental illness are labelled as “bad mothers” or “mad”.
Cactus Mama plans to work with these women, their communities, relevant organizations, and healthcare professionals to ensure access to quality, affordable and timely mental health services.
“We will begin with qualitative research to explore coping among women who have experienced postpartum depression in Eldoret then move to a pilot project to create peer mentorship and support” said Grace.
“We will use research to avail evidenced based mental health support as a telehealth mobile application to alleviate inaccessibility to mental health services especially to women who have to travel to faraway towns to see a doctor” said Faith The pair said in the long run, Cactus Mama will establish a telemental mobile application that will enable affected Kenyan mothers to access quality, timely, affordable and culturally safe care. “We will reach women in remote areas, reducing their cost and burden of mental illness through peer support, partnerships with mental health providers for subsidized treatments and community health workers.”
Cactus Mama won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge in 2018, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders and changemakers earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global changemakers to pursue impactful projects in their communities.
A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.
Faith is optimistic that despite the effort required to realize her dream of setting up a fully operational telemental service for rural women to access mental health services, she believes Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project have given her and Grace an opportunity to start in the right direction.