Africa: Even One Preventable Maternal Death Is Simply Not Acceptable

Windhoek — Midwives, health-care providers and professional associations are the closest to delivering on the promise of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) to millions of women, children and adolescents and ensuring universal sexual and reproductive health and rights.

This was stated in a commitment delivered by midwives at the closing of the International Confederation of Midwifery (ICM) Regional Conference held in Namibia from 12-14 September.

There has been unprecedented progress in improving sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health in the past 25 years. However, despite this progress millions of women remain unable to access quality services, the statement read.

At the event, midwives reaffirmed their commitment to equitable quality sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health outcomes.

"I am committed to changing the face of the African woman and will lead in driving the agenda for holistic, dignified and appropriate health care for pregnant women," said Julieta Kavetuna, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Namibia.

"All efforts we [governments, health actors and donors] put into ensuring that no mother will die while giving life will be in vain if we are not changing out approach," she said.

She was speaking at the opening of the conference, themed 'Midwives Leading the Way for Quality and Equity in Africa'.

Midwives help meet most sexual and reproductive health needs

"When we train midwives based on international standards developed by the ICM, we are able to meet 87 per cent of needs related to sexual and reproductive health," said Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

Toyin Saraki, ICM Global Goodwill Ambassador said: "Between 2010 and 2015, Nigeria adopted the midwives' service scheme, which provided 4,400 midwives across the country with midwifery kits."

When midwives are better equipped and remunerated, receive training based on ICM standards and their workplace is free from sexual harassment and gender discrimination, they are able to carry out a full range of services, leading to improvements in survival and quality of care, she added.

10 years left to achieve the Promise of Cairo on sexual and reproductive health

UNFPA will carry the flame on the road to the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 in November and ignite candles for commitments to achieve inclusive, people-centered development and respect for people's rights, with an emphasis on ending preventable maternal death, ending unmet need for family planning, and ending gender-based violence and sexually transmitted HIV infections, said Dennia Gayle, UNFPA Representative for Namibia.

Poor quality of care in facilities coupled with a lack of essential knowledge and skills are contributing to the deaths of more than half of newborns and half of women, said Charles Sagoe-Moses, World Health Organization Country Representative for Namibia.

Recommitting to ICPD and sexual and reproductive health

At the conference, ICM (which represents 140 midwifery associations in 120 countries), health-care providers, governments, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector recommitted to four broad areas.

These were the universal right to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health-care services; the provision of a safe, respectful, positive and healthy childbirth experience for all pregnant women; advocacy for access to sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents; and striving for provision of quality sexual, maternal, newborn and adolescent care that promotes the best chance of healthy maternal and newborn outcomes.

Twenty-five years ago, the ICPD in Cairo put people's rights at the centre of development. It affirmed sexual and reproductive health as a fundamental human right and emphasized that empowering women and girls is key to ensuring the well-being of individuals, families, nations and our world.

- Derick Nyasulu

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