New £1.2 million maternal and child health project in rural Kenya

(AP)Children walk across a muddy agricultural field following heavy rains in recent days, near the town of Narok, Kenya, in this April 18, 2013 photo

Christian Aid is launching a £1.2 million maternal and child health project in Narok County, south-western Kenya.

The four year project, implemented in partnership with Narok County government and four civil society organisations, launches on Thursday.

Christian Aid hopes to improve the lives of 68,000 pregnant women and 131,000 children under the age of five.

Only a handful of women in Narok County attend sufficient anti natal sessions, and the vast majority of pregnant women rely on traditional birth attendants. Just one in five mothers have access to a skilled midwife during childbirth.

Dr John Kitui, Christian Aid's Community Health Programme Advisor, says: "Maternal and infant mortality, and malnutrition levels among children under five, are worryingly high in Narok Country, while vaccination coverage is less than 70%.

"It is harder to access clean water in Narok than anywhere else in the country, and the number of adequately equipped health far too low to meet the increasingly high demand for such services.

"We believe that lives can be saved and these trends can be significantly reduced, even reversed, by ensuring that mothers-to-be understand the vital importance of skilled delivery, family planning, breastfeeding and nutrition practices, as well as through overall improvements in health services," Dr John continues.

The new project will focus on increasing the coverage of immunisation services for young children. It will also aim to improve nutrition, in addition to strengthening referral systems among malnourished and sick under fives, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

It hopes to improve the health authorities' capacity to supervise and coordinate better health services at both a district and county level.

Other aims supported by the project include the creation of sustained demand for family planning, to encourage the participation of men and to support more youth-friendly reproductive health services.

Christian Aid will also collaborate with the Ministry of Agriculture on food security interventions.

The launch will take place at Ewaso Ng'iro Health Centre in Narok South, and will be officiated by Governor Hon Samuel Kuntai Ole Tunai.