The demand for private maternity services is increasing. Women looking for a place to give birth are no longer satisfied with a hospital whose staff is competent to give birth in complete safety. They want to be pampered and for their stay to be a pleasant memory.
Hospitals in Kenya, keeping a finger on the pulse of the health sector, have segregated sections to provide an experience away from home.
Years ago, only two hospitals offered private maternity wards that had separate bedrooms with crystal chandeliers, comfy leather sofas for guests, extra fold-out beds for the spouse, attached bathrooms with tubs, living room private, free Wi-Fi and hotel-like a la carte meals available to the patient.
Today in Nairobi alone, around six hospitals offer private maternity services as new entrants roll out multi-billion shilling expansion schemes to attract expectant mothers and their partners who can afford to pay more 250,000 shillings for a confinement stay.
At the AAR hospital, I meet Frida and Allan. They spent two months looking for a suitable maternity ward in various hospitals. As first-time parents, they say, choosing where to give birth was a big decision for them. In one of the rooms, which looks like a studio, the new mother and new father are comfortably seated while their newborn baby sleeps in a nearby white cot.
“When you’re delivering, you’re in one of your most vulnerable states. At the same time, it is also an important and life-changing step for a woman. For the hospital, it was important for any pregnant woman who came through our doors to feel like a VIP, to be comfortable and to have access to a high level of privacy,” says Dr Aysha Edwards- Remy, head of clinical services. says of the AAR based on Kiambu Road which opened a year ago and charges 18,000 shillings a day for the private bathroom.
Professor Moses Obimbo, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Avenue Hospital in Nairobi, which charges 17,500 shillings a day for a private room, says that due to isolation, private rooms reduce the risk of infection.
“There’s added privacy and personalized comfort like watching whatever TV you want and arranging the space however you want,” he says.
For future parents, the incentives are clear. Women also want companionship in maternity wards and in private services, partners are now also welcome.
Some women say that choosing to have a partner in the room with the newborn from day one helps them feel like the men are involved in the whole birthing process and alleviates anxiety. It also eases the transition from hospital to home, making it less overwhelming once they are discharged.
The pandemic has also spiked demand for private services, with expectant mothers seeking to reduce contact with many people in hospitals. Those with means preferred private or semi-private rooms which cost 13,500 shillings a day, plus doctor’s fees and theater fees, to the general ward which accommodates up to 20 patients.
Hospitals therefore ensure that patient experiences are curated not only to make things run smoothly, but to help create pleasant memories.
The Aga Khan University Hospital and Nairobi Hospital are the referral hospitals for couples seeking private maternity services. The Aga Khan University Hospital has executive rooms and private rooms. The executive room in the Princess Zahra pavilion costs 65,700 shillings, while her private room costs 41,000 shillings. Private rooms in the main maternity wing cost 33,050 shillings.
“Here, the patient’s family and friends can throw a small party to celebrate the new gift of life,” says Fraciah Maina, a nurse and midwife at the hospital. Dr. Mwaniki Mukainda, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the hospital, points out that going private does not mean that patients receive better medical care than others.
“This means that your choice of accommodation is what you prefer. You can stay at the Pavilion or at the main maternity ward. Every woman who chooses to give birth at the Aga Khan Hospital will enjoy the same high standards of care during labor and delivery,” he said.