CURBING CHILD DEATH IN NIGERIA

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The health authorities should invest more in the primary health care system

For the umpteenth time, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has in a new report raised the alarm about Nigeria’s increasing child death. The report ranks Nigeria the 11th highest on new born deaths, with 29 infant deaths per 1,000 new born babies. Beyond the usual knee-jerk reaction and churning out of questionable statistics to counter UNICEF, which has been the pastime of officials whenever our country comes short in vital statistics, a time has come to muster the political will and tackle headlong the real causes of infant mortality in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s increasing infant deaths mainly stem from poor primary health care and emergency obstetrical services associated with child birth. Yet, infant mortality is preventable or at least reduced to the barest minimum if there were high quality medical care services to meet the needs of our pregnant women and children. That then suggests that many of the deaths in Nigeria are preventable. We therefore call on the government at all levels to urgently invest in primary health care system which includes access to sanitary delivery and clean birthing kit to prevent infection, access to skilled birth attendant, access to basic clean blood and emergency obstetric care and indeed, repair and treatment of obstetric fistula.

The primary health care and outpatient clinic services in Nigeria should be decentralised to reach the suffering and dying women and children in every state, local government and village. Our teaching hospitals need to be re-equipped. The health insurance schemes should be strengthened. It is a scandal that most pregnant women in most Nigerian villages still give birth in the hut with no running water, no sterile suppliers and no skilled birth attendant capable of providing emergency obstetrical care. Other socio-cultural and economic problems arising from the low status of women, poverty, ignorance and traditional harmful practices need to be tackled too. It is a shame that while other nations are improving the health of their women and children in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Nigerian women and children are still dying from many preventable diseases despite the country’s abundant resources.

Therefore the government should muster the political will to put a stop to the increasing infant mortality in Nigeria. Our pregnant women deserve unimpeded access to better health care to save their lives and the lives of their precious babies. Children are our future. Any nation which toys with the destiny of its children is playing with its future.

It is indeed instructive that the National Health Act 2014 which provides a framework for the regulation, development and management of a National Health System established the National Primary Health Care Development Agency. It is saddled with the allocation of resources that cover the provision of free health services to mostly rural citizens through primary or secondary health care facilities in order to eliminate health care user fees for pregnant women and children under five years. But there is nothing to suggest that the agency has been effective in the discharge of its onerous responsibility.

It is important for government at all levels to improve the poor primary health care and emergency obstetrical services associated with child birth in Nigeria. Our teaching hospitals need to be re-equipped. The health insurance scheme should be strengthened. It is a scandal that most pregnant women in most Nigerian villages still give birth in huts with no running water, no sterile suppliers and no skilled birth attendant capable of providing emergency obstetrical care.