1 April 2012

Africa: MDG 5 - Africa Makes Haste Slowly On Maternal Health


ANOTHER woman just died in childbirth. Sentenced to death by pregnancy! One dies every 10 minutes. For each maternal death in the world's most populous black nation, there are at least two dozen survivors, but they suffer from short or long-term disabilities including obstetric fistulae, ruptured uterus and paralysis and other physical damage caused by complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Each year, millions of children are left motherless. Over the next two years, these children are three to 10 times more likely to die.

A woman in the developing world like Nigeria is 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than in the developed world. About 5.9 million babies are born every year in Nigeria, and over one million of these children die before the age of five years. In Nigeria alone, 284,000 newborns die every year - 778 deaths each day. Many of these deaths occur at home and are therefore unseen and uncounted in official statistics.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria ranks second with highest number of maternal deaths in the world after the Democratic Republic of Congo. The estimated national maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in Nigeria is 800 per 100,000 live births, resulting in 47,000 maternal deaths each year. For every woman who dies of maternal causes, at least six newborns die and a further four babies are stillborn.

The statistics are scary, the numbers of deaths numbing. Too many women are losing their lives during childbirth and not enough are using contraceptives or have adequate family planning. There exists the technology and knowledge to inform, educate and save most of those women. Yet the women keep dying. Why? It is an irony. Part of the answer is that, without adequate family planning programmes, women will always be at unacceptably high risk of death, illness and disability.

This picture of maternal health is gruesome to say the least. There is problem is every area affecting causes and circumstances of every pregnancy or childbirth-related maternal death. Factors such as accessing care, mismanagement and inadequate routines are paramount. And of course, there is the community and cultural aspect of family planning and women empowerment to contend with, such that meeting targets of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, remain a hard task.

But women should not die giving life. This is the new rave in Africa. Pregnancy and childbirth are among the very best experiences a woman can have, but first, she needs to have the knowledge and ability to choose when and how many children to have. Hence investing in family planning programmes and in new technologies is essential towards reducing the rate of maternal mortality in Africa and the rest of the world.

Maternal death, according to the World Health Organisation is the "death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes."

Expectedly, preventable maternal death and disability is increasingly being recognised as pressing human rights issues, encompassing questions of resource allocation and political commitment, for which governments must be held accountable.

Governments have been enjoined to, as a matter of urgency, position issues concerning maternal and child survival high on the social/economic development agenda. But while Nigerian and other African governments have repeatedly identified maternal mortality and morbidity as a pressing problem and are developing laws and policies in response, the big question remains. By just how much have these actions translated into a significant improvement in maternal health throughout the world?

Answers to these posers are bound to emerge as more than 150 leaders from 27 African countries along with at least 30 parliamentarians, meet this week to discuss the way forward for maternal and reproductive health on the continent as the Women Deliver Regional Consultation opens in Kampala, Uganda.

They will engage policymakers and advocates to push for accelerated progress in improving maternal, sexual and reproductive health for girls and women. The consultative meeting, convened by Partners in Population and Development Africa Regional Office and Women Deliver, a global advocacy organisation, brings together parliamentarians, government ministry officials, civil society representatives and youth advocates reviewing regional success stories, examining lessons learned and identify priorities for future international development goals to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health.

Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization that brings together voices from around the world to call for improved health and well being for girls and women. Launched in 2007, Women Deliver works globally to generate political commitment and financial investment for fulfilling Millennium Development Goal 5 - to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health. Building from the groundbreaking conferences convened in 2007 and 2010, the initiative harnesses commitments, partnerships, and networks to help prevent the approximately 350,000 deaths of girls and women from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes that occur every year. The message is that maternal health is both a human right and a practical necessity for sustainable development. It urges governments to invest in women, because it pays.

Among prominent leaders expected at the event are First Lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni and Dr. Christine Ondoa, the country's Minister of Health. In a pre-consultation conference, Jotham Musinguzi, Africa Regional Director of Partners in Population confirmed the participation of so many high-level African leaders as demonstration that the health of the continent's women and girls is an urgent priority and Development.

"In the lead up to the 2015 Millennium Development Goal target date, it is more critical than ever that we work together to address the maternal and reproductive health needs in our countries and ensure that our actions make a positive and lasting change on as many lives as possible," he noted.

Jill Sheffield, President and Founder of Women Deliver, acknowledges that Africa faces unique challenges when it comes to women's health, and organisations and individuals are overcoming those challenges with equally unique solutions. "This consultation will provide African policymakers and advocates with the opportunity to share their national and regional expertise to tackle some of the most pressing issues faced by girls and women."

Since 1990, maternal mortality has decreased by 26 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. However, 39 percent of pregnancies are still unintended and only 17 percent of married women of reproductive age use modern contraception. On average, 1 in 31 women in sub-Saharan Africa will die during pregnancy or childbirth. Increased access to interventions, including contraception, pre- and post-natal care and skilled healthcare workers, could help dramatically improve maternal and reproductive health across the continent. "

The Africa Regional Consultation is the first of four regional meetings hosted by Women Deliver

and partner organizations in 2012, with additional events to follow in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. Conversations at these consultations are also intended to help shape the agenda for Women Deliver 2013, Women Deliver's 3rd Global Conference, which will take place 28-30 May 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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