Reducing Maternal, Child Mortality in Nigeria

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Cross section of mothers with their babies

With Nigeria losing an estimated 2,300 children under the age of five and 145 women of child bearing age every single day, and accounting for the second largest number of maternal and child deaths in the world, Martins Ifijeh writes on the recent efforts by stakeholders to reduce the deaths

One of the most overwhelming misfortunes that have endured throughout history is the death of a woman during pregnancy and labour. This adversity is one that comes with so much disappointment and carries a huge burden of grief, pain and heartbreak. The menace of maternal deaths is one that is aggressively damaging to numerous households, terminating innocent lives and resulting in alarming unwarranted and preventable deaths.

Experiences have shown that the birth process is perhaps one of the most dangerous journeys that majority of women are likely to make. This is especially troubling as statistics revealed that the extent of loss of lives across low and middle income countries occasioned by the issue is increasingly becoming high.

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. And even more specific representation is provided by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, which reports that “Every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 children under five and 145 women of childbearing age. This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world.”

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 scarcer 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 achieving the targets of reducing maternal and child mortality rates,” she explained.

Although, the huge burden of deaths among Nigerian women caused by lack of access to proper healthcare or ignorance among most Nigerian families, due to religious or cultural beliefs, experts still believed if the country’s primary healthcare system is made more robust, effective and functional with properly trained birth attendants, increased health financing, adequate health facilities and scaled up awareness programmes among every Nigerian woman of reproductive age, then maternal mortality will reduce drastically in the country.

Meanwhile Nigerian Government, like other affected countries, recognise that the three major challenges to surmount are availability of quality service, accessibility to that service and affordability of the service.

This knowledge is responsible for the increased efforts to combat the menace of child mortality by successive administrations. Yet, even though a considerable amount of efforts have been expended by the government in a move to save the country from this atrocious killer, by all indications, the progress made, was insufficient enough to meet the Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG) – to reduce child mortality by two-third by 2015 – which has since elapsed; a development that made Nigeria unable to meet the goal.

While acknowledging government’s action at doubling efforts to bring the problem under control, many experts have blamed the high mortality rate in the country to poor access to health facilities, poverty, illiteracy and unwillingness of pregnant women to access healthcare services and then urged the government and stakeholders to provide greater access to healthcare, build the capacity of health workers to stem the tide, as well as put other measures in place to educate families on what best to do during pregnancy, childbirth and caring for infants and children under age five.
This year, inspired by the joy that accompanies the Mother’s Day celebration, and in a bid to tackle the high indices occasioned by pregnancy and childbirths, MTN Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of telecoms company, MTN Nigeria, joined forces with JNC International to unveil the MTNF Maternal Support Project to enhance the efforts of government in reducing maternal mortality in Nigeria.

The partnership was driven by an objective of creating unhindered access to affordable healthcare facilities and services provided by skilled healthcare professionals, particularly for the safety of pregnant women and their children.

Explaining the rationale behind the beneficial partnership, Ms. Nonny Ugboma, Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation said “We are concerned about how maternal health can be improved. We also believe that the private sector must work with government and the public sector to help reduce maternal mortality and ensure that our mothers and children lead healthy lives”.

Ugboma who noted that a sizeable number of these deaths were from preventable causes while others occur due to lack of access to pre-natal care, further explained the huge benefit that the initiative brings. “This is why we started the MTNF Maternal Ward Support Project. Through this initiative, we seek to contribute to creating unhindered access to health care systems and skilled health professionals for pregnant women in Nigeria.”

Present at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding were Commissioners of Health from the six beneficiary states; Abia, Cross River, Kaduna, Niger, Oyo and Sokoto. The six states were selected for the first phase of the MTNF Maternal Ward Support Project, following a thorough and rigorous selection process, to become beneficiaries under the first phase.

The goal, under the first phase, is to renovate and equip maternal wards in at least 24 hospitals across the six states. Each maternal ward would be equipped with 20 hospital beds with cardiac rest, 20 standard hospital mattresses, 20 standard hospital bed pillows, 10 four-way foldable ward screens, 20 metal bedside cupboards, 20 visitors’ chairs, 10 drip stands, 20 hydraulic over-bed tables, 10 height adjustable baby cots, and two Carl Novel baby incubators.

Following the launch, the foundation hopes to sensitise women in these states to visit the maternal wards, so they can get easy access to the right care in a conducive environment.
Assuring of the foundation’s continuous support Ugboma said, “guided by our discussions with our stakeholders in the private and public sectors, we will continue to invest in improving the quality of life of Nigerians in the areas of health, education and economic empowerment. We are also grateful to millions of Nigerians who continue to support our parent company – MTN Nigeria through easy or tough times”.

Expressing appreciation for the initiative, Hon. Abass Tajudeen, a member of the House of Representative thanked the MTN Foundation for taking a bold step in supporting the efforts of the Federal government in addressing issues of primary healthcare delivery in Nigeria.
With the launch of the initiative the MTNF and JNC hope to continue complimenting government efforts to reduce child mortality with areas relating to focus on Primary Healthcare, retraining and re-orientation for birth attendants especially in the rural areas and equitable distribution of healthcare facilities around the country

MTN Foundation has so far invested over N18 billion into key projects spread across health, education and economic empowerment. The Foundation, recently commenced the implementation of another 200 new projects under the ‘MTNF What Can We Do Together’ initiative. These projects are being executed based on nominations by members of the public last year and have been making tremendous impacts in communities around Nigeria.