Brazzaville — Improved maternal healthcare and better family planning programmes have led to a sharp decrease in the Republic of Congo's maternal mortality rate over the past decade.
The rate declined from 781 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2005 to 426 deaths per 100,000 live births at the end of 2012, according to a demographic and health survey conducted with the support of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
"Maternal mortality in Congo has fallen over 45 percent since 2005. The country has made reducing maternal mortality a health priority since 2009, following a commitment made by the president to the African Union to reduce maternal mortality so that no woman dies giving birth," UNFPA representative in Congo David Lawson told IRIN.
"Working with UNICEF [the UN Children's Fund], WHO [the World Health Organization] and the World Bank, UNFPA has been the principal assistant to the government in terms of defining a national roadmap for accelerating the reduction of maternal mortality and launching the Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality [CARMMA] in Congo," he added.
According to Lawson, UNFPA has made available more than US$6 million (three billion CFA francs) to support the efforts of government and civil society in this area.
Several factors credited
The Ministry of Health, meanwhile, says several factors explain the downward trend in the rate of maternal mortality, from 1,100 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 890 deaths in 2002.
It cites, among other factors, free Caesarean sections; the strengthening of family planning, which has helped reduce maternal mortality by nearly 30 percent; the fight against obstetric fistula; and the establishment of a national panel called the Observatory on Maternal and Newborn Mortality.
The downward trend in maternal mortality "brings all renewed hope, but much remains to be done to maintain this trend until 2015," Godefroy Mallandha, a mother-and-child health specialist with UNICEF Congo, told IRIN.
In Congo, said Mallandha, most people live in urban areas, 93 percent of pregnant women receive antenatal care, and 92 percent deliver in a health facility.
"We regret, therefore, that the majority of maternal deaths occur in a health centre from complications which could have been prevented or effectively taken care of. To continue to improve the quality of care and services is of great importance," he added.
Child mortality also down
The policies of the government and its bilateral and multilateral partners - as well as NGOs - have also contributed to a decline in child mortality.
According to Mallandha, this rate has decreased from 117 child deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 68 per 1,000 live births in 2012.
"As for the mortality of newborns [22 deaths per 1,000 live births], this category is responsible for more than half of all deaths of children under one year old, and therefore requires special attention," he said. Newborn, or neonatal, mortality is defined as death that occurs within the first 28 days of life.
"In accordance with its commitments, the government, with the participation of [stakeholders], will continue its efforts to implement additional measures to combat preventable deaths of children and mothers," Mallandha continued.
Congo still has to make significant efforts. It is one of the African states to commit in 2001 to allocate 15 percent of its budget to the health sector, but currently it is earmarking only 9 percent, according to the World Bank.
Congo's Human Development Index ranking in 2011 was 137 out of 187 countries.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]