Paul Obi in Abuja
Notwithstanding the stiff opposition that has trailed attempt to implement an overall national birth control policy, the federal government yesterday insisted that family planning is indispensable if Nigeria intends to address maternal health challenges.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, explained that the issue of maternal health could not be addressed without tackling the issue of family planning.
Adewole stated this in Abuja when he received a report on Maternal Health in Nigeria: A Situation Report presented by African Population and Health Research Centre.
He stated: “Promotion of family planning and child spacing are key ingredients to reducing morbidity and maternal mortality in Nigeria.”
Adewole said: “We need to look at education, address poverty and increase access to healthcare.”
Earlier, Senior Research Scientist of African Population and Health Research Centre, Chima Izugbara, while giving the background of the report said that maternal health remains an area for urgent policy and programmatic attention in Nigeria, stressing that, nearly one in every four women in sub-Saharan Africa is a Nigerian.
Izugbara added that the plight of women in Nigeria would vastly impinge on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the region adding that investing purposely in safeguarding maternal health in the country was a sure strategy for improving on the current levels of progress and guaranteeing the future potential for growth and advancement in Africa as a whole.
He attributed “top medical causes of maternal mortality in Nigeria to obstetric hemorrhage, infection following childbirth, unsafe abortion, eclampsia and obstructed labour; the causes which experts agreed were largely treatable and preventable.”
According to the report, “an estimated 9.22 million pregnancies occur annually in Nigeria adding that a quarter of these pregnancies were unintended and 56 per cent of the unintended pregnancies were aborted.
Izugbara stressed that “the majority of the abortions performed in the country were clandestine and unsafe that is, terminated either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking the minimal medical standard or both. As a result, unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity in Nigeria.”
According to the report, “In 1996, an estimated 600,000 abortions occurred in the country and the number of abortions rose to 760,000 in 2006, and to 1.25 million in 2012.
“About 53 per cent of the population of Nigeria lives in rural settings are particularly at risk for poor maternal health outcomes, including maternal mortality and morbidity” adding that “maternal health challenges of rural women are heightened by the urban bias in the location of health facilities and the availability of skilled human resources for health’’. The report further stated.
It further observed that “adequate funding is critical for addressing the current shortage of high-quality human resources for maternal health at all skill levels and increased government investment in multi-sectoral funding will help to address infrastructural deficiencies that characterise the Nigerian health system.”
The government insistence on family planning came amid continued opposition and criticisms following the move to distribute family planning commodities to facilitate birth control.
The Catholic Church and some Muslim groups have been on the forefront opposing family planning. Last month, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) under the Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province took the minister headlong over the matter.
In a communique signed by the Archbishop of Ibadan, Gabriel Abegunrin and Catholic Bishop of Ekiti State, Bishop Felix Ajakaye, they deplored the federal government family planning policy, arguing that “the policy is being done all in the name of providing better maternal health and empowering our people.
“We see such moves as deceptive to our people and harmful to moral values and we ask Nigerians to reject them. Our youth and women need better power supply, potable water, good roads, better health and educational institutions more than these contraceptives.
“Our country must reject this relentless offer of anti-life incentives under the guise of foreign aid in order not to destroy our beautiful culture,” the bishops stated.