First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on Tuesday at State House, Nairobi launched the 2020 edition of Beyond Zero Half Marathon and restated her commitment to continue advocating for initiatives aimed at improving provision of quality healthcare to women and children.

The First Lady announced the expansion of the Beyond Zero medical scholarship programme from the current 100 to 200 beneficiaries next year.

She said the funds raised through the marathon will be deployed to refurbish health facilities as well as kick-start the process of setting up a specialized Beyond Zero referral health facility.

“Through the funds raised we will continue to be responsive to the needs of communities by rebuilding or refurbishing and equipping specialized health units to serve communities in marginalized areas,” the First Lady said.

Earlier, the First Lady and her team of trainers who included world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge and his wife Grace, braved the morning downpour to kick off her training for the marathon scheduled for March 8, 2020.

At the launch, attended by Mrs Ida Odinga and hundreds of the marathon supporters, the First Lady expressed concerns about the increasing cancer cases and new adolescent HIV infections in the country.

She urged Kenyans and well-wishers to continue supporting efforts aimed at enhancing the delivery of health services in the country including the Beyond Zero initiative.

“Our work is not finished. The worrying trend of increased cancer hurts our families, hurts our communities, hurts our nation. In addition, increase of new adolescent HIV infections threatens to disrupt Kenya’s opportunity to reap from our demographic dividend from a youthful generation,” the First Lady said.

She thanked the marathon’s stakeholders including donors for their continued support saying Beyond Zero mobile clinics and the Beyond Zero medical safaris launched last year have touched millions of lives through free medical services, advocacy and awareness.

The First Lady noted that Beyond Zero has been re-engineered to support the government’s aspiration to achieve universal health coverage.

The launch of the half marathon coincided with celebrations to mark this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). A day that is observed annually to promote the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities

The theme of the 2019 IDPD is “Promoting the participation of persons living with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda.”

The First Lady said this year’s IDPD theme resonates with the Beyond Zero agenda of leaving no one behind in access to quality health services.

“People living with disabilities must be protected and given the dignity to live meaningful and productive lives as part of our communities,” the First Lady said adding that, “this year’s theme (IDPD) urges us to break the barriers that exist in access to services in health, education and employment of persons with disabilities.”

During the launch, eminent panelists discussed the ways and means in which the Beyond Zero initiative has galvanised the private and public sector to focus on improving healthcare for women and children.

United Nations Resident Coordinator Siddharth Charterjee recalled the time the First Lady initiated the Beyond Zero in 2014, pointing out that at the time Mandera and other northern Kenyan counties were facing profound maternal health challenges.

Mr Chartterjee said it is through the First Lady’s efforts that the United Nations institutions, the private and public sector players were exposed to the potential of working jointly to improve the health of Kenyans especially the most vulnerable.

The UN boss said Kenya is now a role model to the international community on how the public and private sector can work together to achieve better results for the common good of the nation.

Regional CEO of Jubilee Holdings Dr Julius Kipngetich said his organization will continue to partner with Beyond Zero in improving access to quality and affordable healthcare to Kenyans.

“We are thinking of a community hospital to complement government hospitals. Jubilee Insurance and Aga Khan Hospital will start a community hospital, a medium to low-end hospital for the poor which will also be profitable, we will price it accordingly,” Dr Kipngetich said.

Ford Foundation Director for Eastern Africa Maurice Makoloo said his organization will continue partnering with the First Lady in creating awareness on the needs of persons with disabilities.

Mr Makoloo urged the First Lady to consider establishing a leadership institute noting that his organization is ready to commit Sh12 million towards the cause.

“From the Ford Foundation we think time has come for you to consider establishing a Mama Margaret Kenyatta leadership institute, and to put my money where my mouth is we are willing to commit a sum of Sh12million towards that cause,” he said.

Others who spoke at launch included Sports CS Amina Mohammed, Chief of Staff in the Office of the First Lady Constance Gakonyo, Eliud Kipchoge and National Aids Control Council CEO Dr Nduku Kilonzo among others.