How Linda Mama Contributes to the Goal of Universal Health Coverage

In line with the current United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Linda Mama initiative was formed to reduce maternal and neo-natal mortality and to improve the health outcomes of mother and baby. Speaking with Ms. Fardosa Abdi, NHIF’s manager on programs and schemes, we get to debunk the myths, dispel the half-truths, and reveal the benefits of Linda Mama, to meet Kenya’s health care targets.

Linda Mama has been spoken of for quite some time, can you tell us what it’s about?

This is a program that began in 2013 when the President declared that all Kenyan women who go to public facilities should get free health care during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. It ran for three years under the Ministry of Health, then transitioned to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF/The Fund) to expand service delivery beyond public hospitals to Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs) and private facilities.

So far, it has registered about 60,000 women, some of whom have already delivered, and others are still on the program. About 1.4 million women deliver annually, which is the ultimate goal of Linda Mama’s reach. It’s also managed to enroll all 4000 public facilities, which are automatically listed, as well as 389 of the 2000 private health facilities and 199 of 450 FBO facilities, totaling about 500 countrywide.

That sounds promising to Kenyan women! How then can they be a part of Linda Mama?

Though the program’s ultimate goal is to enroll all expectant women in Kenya, it currently caters to the most vulnerable and impoverished women who cannot afford the recommended ante- and postnatal care, and delivery. So those on NHIF’s cover or private health insurance may not benefit from Linda Mama at present.

Options of how one can register are: using the mobile short code *263#, or at any of NHIF’s 99 centers around the country, or huduma centers. Then the woman goes to one of the contracted facilities to confirm the pregnancy, for enrolment. The Fund will attain these records to ensure women attain the minimum recommended four visits before and after delivery.

With such ambitious targets, how do you ensure health facilities provide quality care and receive adequate funding?

At registration of a health facility to Linda Mama, NHIF quality control officers ensure it meets the minimum requirements to provide the services, and thereafter continuously engages them to ensure the best care is given to expectant women.

Initially, the Ministry of Health sent money to the counties, and this had the potential of setting back the programme if money is redirected to other county priorities. Now however, NHIF pays money directly to each health facility's bank account.

The Fund is committed to making reimbursements to claims every fortnight, and encourages facilities to plough back to the program, to improve on the services they offer.

Sounds like NHIF has its work cut out, how can other stakeholders in the sector contribute to these efforts?

We require sensitization of people about Linda Mama. More women need to be informed of it – particularly in marginalized areas where little investment has been made – and more healthcare providers need to be trained on how to give the best quality of care. Collaboration with non-state actors and programs to do this can revolutionise maternal and newborn healthcare in Kenya.