A mother and her child

Rebecca Ejiforma

Nigeria remains one of the countries of the world that still records high maternal and child mortality with about 150 deaths among women of reproductive age due to pregnancy complications.

Over two thousand children under five years of age die daily from preventable causes. “These deaths are as a result of declining quality of healthcare services rendered to communities – especially hard-to-reach communities where they are already disadvantaged with respect to lack of public services,” Development Communications Network stated.

The National Demographic and Health Survey of 2013 revealed that coverage and quality of healthcare services in Nigeria is poor. Less than 20 per cent of health facilities offer emergency obstetric care and only 35 per cent of deliveries are attended by skilled attendant.

Though many of these deaths are preventable, the quality of healthcare services continues to fall short of standard. Nigeria’s government has made political commitments and pronouncements towards achievement of universal health coverage and access to reproductive healthcare.

The Abuja declaration of 2001 of allocating at least 15 per cent of national budget to health, Maputo Plan of Action (2006) to promote reproductive health services including Family Planning, Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) promise of 2010 to strengthen the health system, and the July 2012 commitment of US$45.4 million to provide reproductive health commodities are a few of such pronouncements.

Although the government began initiatives targeted at women and children (e.g. Saving One Million Lives, Midwives Service Scheme) the pace of decline in maternal mortality is slow, coupled with declining state of our healthcare system.

These problems continue to linger as a result of lack of political will, poor government prioritisation of health (as observed in declining allocation of budget for health), poor planning, coordination, and implementation of projects, lack of or insufficient data, non-effective use of data for planning preventing maternal death and illness is an issue of women’s human rights.

According to Devcoms officer, Biodun Owo, making motherhood safer requires guarantee of these rights which include: their rights to good quality services and information during and after pregnancy and childbirth; their right to make choices freely about their health including childbirth spacing. It also encompasses the removal of barriers that contribute to maternal mortality such as high cost of health care, difficult geographical terrains, non-availability/shortage of essential life-saving commodities.

With low contraceptive prevalence rate of about 15 percent, Nigeria continues to record high unintended pregnancies, many of which are resolved through clandestine abortion, despite the country’s restrictive abortion law. Many of these often result in death or disability.

Unsafe abortion is a preventable cause of maternal death and can be significantly reduced by ensuring that safe motherhood programmes comprises client-centred family planning services to prevent unwanted pregnancy, contraceptive counselling for women who have had an induced abortion.

In order to accelerate efforts towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals, Owo said there was need for renewed political will and commitment of resources towards improving maternal and child healthcare. “Reducing maternal mortality requires sustained, long-term commitment and the inputs of a range of public and private sector partners.
She added: “governments, non-governmental organisations (including women’s groups and family planning agencies), donors, and others should share their diverse strengths and work together to promote safe motherhood within countries and communities and across national borders.”

According to her, programmes should be developed, evaluated and improved with the involvement of clients, health providers, and community leaders. National plans and policies should put maternal health into its broad social and economic context, and incorporate all groups and sectors that can support safe motherhood.

Meanwhile, Safe Motherhood Day is celebrated annually in different countries on selected dates. In Nigeria it is celebrated on May 22. This year, the Federal Ministry of Health could not mark the day as expected and decided the event be celebrated on the 23rd and 24th of August 2016.

It is an initiative aimed at examining issues around availability and adequate access to care during pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal services. The theme for the Safe Motherhood Day is, “Saving Mother’s and Baby’s lives: A Worthy Investment for National Development.”