The Scourge of Maternal Mortality

Fri, Mar 8, 2013
By publisher

2013 Women's Day

Nigeria still ranks high among countries in Africa with high maternal and infant mortality despite the efforts of past and present federal governments to reduce it

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Mar. 18, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

EIGHTEEN years after the Beijing Conference, the scourge of maternal mortality and other health issues still persists in Nigeria. Most women in the country die from a wide range of complications in pregnancy, child birth, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, breast cancer among others, which in most cases, are caused by poor health and inadequate health personnel.

According to reports from the United Nations, UN, World Population Prospects and the Institute for Health Metric Reports of 2010 published in 2012, Nigeria still ranks high in Africa among the countries with high maternal and infant mortality rates with a ratio of 545 to 630 per 100,000 live births on the maternal mortality index and 75 per 1,000 live births on the infant mortality index.

These alarming rates of women and infants dying during child delivery prompted world leaders to meet at the United Nations Millennium summit in 2000 to adopt eight Millennium Development Goals. Of the eight goals, infant mortality was weighted fourth while maternal mortality was fifth with the aim of achieving 75 per cent drop from the level of maternal mortality in 2015.

Meanwhile, the 2012 reports of the National Agency for the Control of Aids, NACA, showed that about 3.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and 58 per cent of them are women. The statistics posted on NACA website indicated 1.72 million women are living with the virus and that 55 percent of those dying of AIDS annually in Nigeria are women and young. The report revealed that in Nigeria, HIV among young women aged 15 to 24 years is estimated to be three times higher than among men of the same age. Also about 300,000 new infections occur annually with people in the same age bracket and that in sub-Saharan African, 60 perecnt of the people living with HIV are women, while women make up 50 percent of the global epidemic.

Ado Mohammad
Ado Mohammad

Aside maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS, a report from the World Health Organisation, WHO, also revealed that other health issues that affect women and children in Nigeria are heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, depression, malaria and autoimmune diseases. According to the report, heart disease in women is responsible for about 29 percent of the recorded deaths. It was against this background that the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF and other multilateral donor agencies released funds annually to enable developing nations, like Nigeria, to improve their infant maternal health record and other health-related issues that affect women.

Surprisingly, no meaningful success has been achieved in the fight to stop the rate at which women die from probable preventable diseases in the country. Despite the efforts of past and present administrations to reduce the trend, Nigeria is still ranked second highest maternal and child mortality country in the world after India. According to the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, report, most of the victims of maternal deaths are women between the reproductive ages of 15 and 45, adding that 52,000 of these vulnerable women die in Nigeria annually.

To effectively confront the scourge, Ado Mohammad, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, said Nigeria needs new strategies that would be targeted at achieving a sustainable policy plan capable of ensuring the safety of women in the country.  He lamented that over the years, the implementation of the fantastic plans as enshrined in the agency’s document have been impossible mainly because they were not as practical as they were more political.

Mohammad stressed the need for the country to develop a new implementable plan that would naturally fit into the agency’s agenda, their partners’ and other stakeholders’ efforts towards the rapid reduction of infant and maternal mortality, polio eradication, HIV/ AIDS among others.

Eric Nwosu, a medical practitioner with the Bose Specialist Hospital in Lagos, said that government should provide the necessary health care facilities to reduce maternal mortality and other health issues that affect women in the country. “Apart from the government providing the necessary primary, secondary and tertiary health care facilities for its citizens, it is also important to emphasise the need for the women, especially those in the rural areas and the illiterate ones to be tutored in basic reproductive health education. In our practice, we have come across a lot of avoidable child and maternity deaths. Most of them stem from complications that could have been noticed during antenatal care if they had gone through the right channel,” Nwosu said.

Olusegun Obasanjo, former president also called on the federal and state governments to address health issues that affect women. Obasanjo, who spoke recently during the Abel Guobadia Memorial lecture, organised by the Women’s Health and Action Research Centre, WHARC, said that the achievement of the desired economic and political growth by governments at all levels would be difficult if the challenges facing women in the country are not addressed.

He said affirmative action must be designed and implemented to give women an opportunity to address health issues that concern them. “If they are shut out, national development in health and other sectors will be hard to realize. Majority of Nigerians particularly women are poor and they are susceptible to diseases and that is bad for any nation. If about 50 per cent of our population are women, anything that affects the bulk of that population affects the nation directly and this is in addition to the issue of direct effect on women’s health, children and the family. The issue of women’s health must be treated within the other issue of power, control and decision making,” Obasanjo said.

Perhaps, the federal government is listening, Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health has assured Nigerians that the country will meet the MDG goals 4 and 5 before the end of 2015. He said the federal government has adopted a strategy known as the Millennium Development Goals Acceleration Framework to reduce the high rate of maternal mortality and other health issues that affect women in the country.

According to Chukwu, the plan, if operational, would offer a new urgent way to curtail challenges of accelerating progress with the MDGs in the country and identify priorities in the area of interventions that would help reduce the high level of maternal mortality in the country.

“In order for Nigeria to succeed in achieving Goal 5 by 2015, a concerted effort is required to mitigate this growing in-country divergence. By comparison to progress in other Goal areas, for instance Goal 4 where progress is around 13 percent reduction per year, progress in Goal 5 is only a 4 percent reduction per year. This initiative would help fast track the efforts of the health sector in accelerating progress towards the MDGs by 2015,” he said.