28 February 2013

Namibia: New Programme to Reduce Child Mortality

In an effort to reduce maternal and child mortality in the country, First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba, who is also the patron of the Maternal and Child Health Agenda in Namibia, yesterday launched a programme that would improve maternal and child health over the next four years.

The 'Programme for Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality ' (PARMaCM) in Namibia is a tripartite partnership between the Ministry of Health and Social Services, which is the implementing partner, the World Health Organisation (WHO), which would provide technical support and the European Union (EU), which is funding the N$100 million project.

Amongst others, PARMaCM aims to accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) four and five, which are to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health, respectively. The programme also aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger through support to improve nutrition, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

In addition, the programme is expected to improve access to quality emergency obstetric and neonatal care; implement adolescent friendly health services; mobilise communities for improved maternal, newborn and child health, as well as build the capacity of health workers in selected districts and training institutions.

PARMaCM will be implemented in six districts that would be defined at the inception phase and would be focused on rural women, children and adolescents. The Ministry of Health and Social Services last year came under intense scrutiny regarding its compromised services, particularly with reports on the number of mothers and children who died in state hospitals due to complications experienced during labour. Dr Richard Kamwi, the Minister of Health and Social Services, last year revealed at a press conference that in 2010, 80 mothers died of labour related matters in state facilities across the country, while by June last year 62 mothers had died of labour-related complications.

The figures exclude those mothers who might have succumbed to similar complications at home. Maternal and child health is a subject close to the heart of, Madam Pohamba, who is a nurse by profession. She has expressed concern on various occasions over maternal and child health, which she says remains "unacceptably" high in Namibia and the rest of the continent. "Despite remarkable achievements in various health indicators in the country, the maternal and child mortality has not shown a sign of reduction in the past two decades," noted the First Lady when delivering the keynote address yesterday.

She said that the health and wellbeing of a mother is closely related to the survival of a child. "When a mother dies due to pregnancy, delivery and postnatal related complications, the chances of her baby to survive exponentially diminishes, therefore making an effort to save mothers is a big step towards saving the children," Madam Pohamba said.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Musinga Bandora, said the government has invested heavily in the health sector with good results in terms of extensive coverage of antenatal care services and high child delivery at health facilities.

"Yet, this has not translated into reducing maternal and child mortality in the country," Bandora remarked. He was quick to note that this phenomenon is not exclusive to Namibia.

According to Bandora, PARMaCM is meant to add financial resources to expertise and carefully chosen strategies and approaches "that are known to work. It will address systems issues and communities' attitudes, knowledge and practices so that we may transform the challenges into opportunities to reverse the current trends in maternal and child mortality in Namibia."

The WHO Country Representative, Dr Magda Robalo, said PARMaCM would ensure that health workers are adequately trained to deliver essential emergency obstetric care and provide better antenatal care.

The programme would also ensure that hospitals and public health facilities are duly equipped with ambulances, materials, equipment and supplies.

"Because anything can happen anytime, anywhere and without warning, women who live far away will have a chance to come closer to health facilities while they wait for the delivery date," Robalo said. Furthermore, she noted the budget allocation to reproductive health is far from being adequate. "With the newly unveiled budget and the 32 percent increase in the health budget, we hope that significant funding will be allocated to life saving interventions," Robalo said.

Robalo believes that Namibia can achieve MDGs four and five, provided the right investments are made and where it matters most.

The Head of the EU Delegation to Namibia, Ambassador Raúl Fuentes Milani said the best way to deliver development aid to a country is to be aligned with its development strategies. "I look forward to this programme's contribution to the achievement of Namibia's goal to accelerate the reduction of maternal and child mortality," Milani said. PARMaCM will run from 2013 to 2016.

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