A Spotlight on RHNK

Tell us a little bit about your organization and your connection to the SCTG

The Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) is a network of health professionals within private and public facilities committed to Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, advocacy and service provision. The network was formed to provide evidence-based information and quality comprehensive reproductive health services in Kenya. We are a dynamic national organization that provides best in class technical assistance on reproductive health policy, legislation, advocacy, training and service delivery. Young people are at the center of our work and we are committed to gender equality, community empowerment and innovation including digital technologies.  We partner with government, private sector, civil society organizations, community organizations, youth and LGBTQ+ populations.  We are the largest network of reproductive health professionals with more than 500 members across all cadres including gynecologists, midwives, nurses, and youth-peer providers. Our vision is to ensure that all people in Kenya have access to quality and comprehensive reproductive health information, services and supplies to lead healthy lives. We ensure that everyone is able to enjoy bodily autonomy and rights including the right to contraception, safe delivery, HIV prevention and treatment.

RHNK’s main strategic goal is to contribute to the reduction of maternal morbidity and mortality with a focus on the two among other five causes of maternal mortality and morbidity: postpartum hemorrhage and unsafe abortion.

Why does RHNK consider self-care to be a vital part of health systems? 

Self-care has been a part of the Kenya health system for a long time—it’s not new. However, it was highly appreciated during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns that disrupted routine health services and prevented young people from accessing quality care.  Many primary health care centers  and youth-friendly facilities were closed for preventive care, and Kenya experienced dramatically high rates of gender-based violence, unintended pregnancies, maternal mortality, and  unsafe abortions. The need to integrate self-care as an essential part of the health systems has become more urgent than ever. The health system should focus on the medical needs of patients. Self-care allows us to prevent disease and promote better health by putting information and products into the hands of clients. Self-care products that are widely being used include:  HIV self-testing, contraceptive products (e.g., DMPA-SC and emergency contraception), and medical abortion pills for safe pregnancy termination. We believe that medical providers and the medical system have a critical role to play to ensure good health; and we believe that advances in self-care can accelerate better health and well-being by putting information and products into the hands of clients and freeing up the medical system to focus on clinical interventions.  We see a world where self-care is embraced by all people, communities and the medical profession to create  healthier and equitable societies. 

What are the main challenges to advancing self-care in Kenya? 

We have made  progress in Kenya working with the Ministry of Health, medical and scientific community, local and international partners, and advocates at national and county-levels to advance self-care. The five major challenges identified by the Kenyan self-care community are:

  1. Need for policy guidelines and regulatory framework; 
  2. Ensuring supply of affordable and quality products; 
  3. Insufficient attention to consumer information, education and behavior change communication-especially for young people; 
  4. Innovative financing of mechanisms for young people;
  5. Blueprint to catalyze public-private partnership to scale up self-care.   
What does RHNK hope to achieve through its advocacy work as the SCTG’s new Kenya Self-Care Network lead? 

First, we are excited and honored to lead the Kenya Self-Care Network (NSN) and want to recognize the pioneering work of partner organizations and the Ministry of Health (MOH).  Our north star this year is to enhance and address the policy environment and ecosystem. In light of the launch of the WHO’s Consolidated Guideline on Self-Care Interventions for Health and Well-Being, one of our most important objectives of the NSN this year will be to have a technical committee review the WHO’s guidelines and work with the MOH to establish Kenya’s national self-care guidelines to create a strong policy environment and regulatory framework for the future. We want to use the review process to build and foster a strong and vibrant commitment to self-care, and we will ensure active engagement by youth, LGBTQ+ and vulnerable communities.  We will be working with advocates at the national, county and grassroots level to provide information, education and evidence so they can actively participate in shaping the guidelines, advocating to fund self-care in their counties and communities and disseminating the guidelines when they are finished in early 2023.   The future of health care globally includes a strong and vibrant self-care component, and we are excited to be part of this global Self-Care Trailblazer Group community. 

(Photo description: RHNK network providers and youth peer providers during a community engagement on DMPA -SC.)