Every day, Nigeria loses 2,300 under five children and 145 women of child bearing age, a statistics that makes the country second to the worst place in the world to give birth. But MTN Foundation, through its Yellow Heart Initiative, hopes to change this narrative.
Many a time, women do not have a say in which country they should get pregnant from, or where their innocent children should be born. They do not have a say in what will be the outcome of their pregnancies. Whether they will give birth safely or lose their lives and/or that of their babies is an exclusive preserve of the country they reside in ... or God.
This lack of choice could make a huge difference in what the future holds for a pregnant woman, her unborn child, her family or even the same society which determines the outcome of her status as an expectant woman.
If the over four billion women in the world had a choice, they would take their destinies and that of their babies in their own hands. They would prefer to get pregnant and give birth in Belarus, Poland, Austria, Israel or Italy where it is most certain they would give birth in one piece, with their lives and that of their babies intact.
But unfortunately, many do not have a say on this. Among such women, over 150 million unfortunately live in Nigeria where being pregnant is almost like a death sentence. They do not have the luxury of choosing where they should give birth. They are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, whether to get pregnant and perhaps die (their babies not excluded) or stay without pregnancies so they could live. This is a choice every woman makes in Nigeria as she ticks towards reproductive age.
It is even now a 'norm' in Nigeria for a pregnant woman to hide her status, stop going for social gatherings, avoids photo or videos on social media until she gives birth. Care to know why? Because, on one part, should in case the baby dies during pregnancy or delivery, her friends would not even notice she had lost a baby.
On the other hand, misfortunes attached to pregnancies and deliveries are so common that they now believe the more people know about their pregnancies, the more wizardry is used to kill the babies or themselves; a mindset that has been fueled by the unfortunate incessant outcomes caused by the country's healthcare system.
While only a handful of the women folk have access to quality healthcare in the country, over 80 per cent of Nigerian women depend on the mercy of the average to poor health facilities in the country for their deliveries.
On specifics, Nigeria loses about 2,300 children under five years and 145 women of childbearing age every single day, if reports by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) is to go by.
This makes the country about the largest contributor to under five and maternal mortality rate in the world, just second to India.
The report shows that for every 100,000 live births, Nigeria loses at least 576 children. But in Belarus, for every 100,000 live births, three children are lost.
According to a 2015 report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day and a high percentage of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, including Nigeria, where the burden stands at 10 per cent, with the other 194 countries sharing the remaining 90 per cent of the global burden.
However, due to the fundamental role a mother plays in the life of a child, Nigeria's current statistics of very high deaths per year during childbirth is indicative of inherent lapses in the critical aspects of the healthcare delivery system of the country.
A recent UNICEF report states that for every 10 minutes, one woman dies on account of pregnancy or childbirth in Nigeria. These worrying statistics reveal the extent of damage that is being done and dims any hope of a possible solution if urgent steps are not taken. It also shows that financial and geographical access to care and good quality healthcare delivery service is becoming very scarce by the day.
No wonder a representative of the United Nations Population Trust Fund (UNFPA), Ms Rati Ndhlovu, once likened the deaths experienced daily from pregnancy-related complications to Boeing 747 plane crash everyday, adding that because the women were poor and disadvantaged, their deaths were often ignored.
"Yet, these numbers of deaths don't just happen once in a while like plane crashes. They happen every blessed day, which ordinarily should make the country scale up interventions to achieve the targets of reducing maternal and child mortality rates," she explained.
It is in tackling this huge and embarrassing burden in Nigeria that MTN Foundation continues to champion interventions through various initiatives for the benefit of mothers and children.
From 'What We Can Do Together Initiative', where it renovated over 24 hospitals and equipped various maternal and child units across the country, including the provision of educational, infrastructural and empowerment supports to communities, it has launched a new initiative, termed, the 'Yellow Heart Initiative' which is a further intervention towards helping the society reduce the poor maternal and child health in the country.
Speaking during the launch of the initiative in Oyo State recently, Director, MTN Foundation, Dennis Okoro, said the idea behind the initiative is to ensure Nigerian mothers, children, and by extension the society is abreast with information required for the prevention of maternal and child complications and deaths in the country.
Apart from Oyo, other states where the initiative is being launched include Ogun, Abia, Niger, Kaduna and Cross River States.
According to him, thousands of women will be trained in the identified states on various areas, including benefits of ante natal, need to patronise skilled personnel, among others.
"The scope of this initiative is not only limited to the six states. We will continue to push for interventions across the country that will help our women get adequate information needed for their health and that of their newborns.
"Two weeks ago we were in Ogun State. By January we will be in Abia, and if you notice, our main target is to get to the grassroots of these regions. Those who live in rural areas also deserve to know what they need to do to keep themselves and their children safe."
He said the foundation was sensitive to the plight of Nigerian women. "We are very sensitive to challenges within our society, which is why we go the extra mile to make the lives of people brighter. It is against this backdrop that the foundation has resolved to improve the state of healthcare, education and economic empowerment.
"We realised that most deaths of mothers and children in our communities can be prevented using existing knowledge and proven cost-effective interventions. This is why we hope to use the Yellow Heart Initiative to address predominant issues such as attitude and cultural practice that hinder women and children from accessing healthcare services in the society," he added.
The Commissioner for Health, Oyo State, Dr. Azeez Adeduntan, said countries were no longer judged by their gross domestic products, but by their health indices, especially the health of mothers and children.
"We are particularly happy with MTN Foundation for supporting our efforts towards quality health for all. This is another opportunity for our pregnant women to know the importance of ante natal care, and other areas needed for safe delivery, and the health of the mother and child," adding that pregnancy was not a death sentence.
"We also have skilled birth attendants that can take deliveries now. MTN is complimenting the efforts of Oyo State. We have four maternal hospitals in the state that will be completed in the next six months, so there is no reason for our women to be dying from pregnancy-related issues."
While Nigeria's rate is put at 576/100,000 live births, Adeduntan said that of Oyo State is at 263/100,000. "This has further shown that we have improved the health indices of our mothers and children in the state. By the end of the governor's tenure, he intends to reduce this figure to less than 100/100,000 live births.
"Here, we believe if mothers and children are dying, then we are in trouble. That is why we attend to pregnant women free of charge. So our concern is to ensure our women access our healthcare facilities for ante natal, counseling and delivery. That is why what MTN Foundation is doing is very key to actualising our dream. The more our women are educated and informed, the more they will access our clinics and skilled health personnel for treatment," he added.
On the sideline of the launch, a gynaecologist, Dr. Kemi Olatunji said what must be done to prevent maternal and child deaths include access to skilled care before, during and after giving birth, adding that health providers must be trained in emergency obstetric care.
"Health centres and clinics must have surgical supplies to handle complications. Skilled community-based birth attendants should be trained and posted to increase maternal coverage in remote areas, and incentives should be given to health providers to motivate them to do their job effectively. Women and girls should be educated and empowered about maternal health issues," she added.