With the rise in maternal and child related deaths in the country, stakeholders proffer strategies for improved maternal care and offspring survival. Paul Obi writes
In many countries, maternal and new-born health still poses a great challenge to the achievement of the United Nations developmental goals. In most cases, the situation is made worse by conflicts. Nigeria’s performance in maternal and new-born health faces multifarious challenges.
According the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in its 2015 report, the rise in maternal deaths in about 35 countries, Nigeria inclusive, is propelled more by “humanitarian crisis or fragile conditions.”
Nigeria is also confronted with healthcare infrastructural deficit.
New Action Plan
The gaps and the increasing challenge of ensuring improved maternal and new-born health compelled the federal government to launch about three programmes for mother and child health. The three programmes launched in 2016 by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, include the Nigerian Every New-born Action Plan, Essential Nigerian New-born Training Package, and National Chlorhexidine Scale Up Strategy.
The launch of the new action plan, which was spearheaded by the Department of Family Health, Federal Ministry of Health, headed by Dr. Adebimpe Adebiyi, was aimed at strengthening government’s commitment towards ending maternal and new-born deaths in the country. Another objective was to scale up health services for an efficient system to cater for maternal, new-born health.
To set the tone for a more reliable health system, stakeholders under the aegis of African Health Organisation (WAHO) recently met in Abuja to brainstorm on ways to address the problems associated with maternal, new-born health.
With cases of maternal and new-born related deaths on the increase, WAHO believes that the task of giving birth to children should not be a death sentence. The body lamented the rise in maternal and new-born deaths in Nigeria, stating that childbirth should not be another license to death. According to WAHO, available records show that about 15,000 women in the country die annually during childbirth.
Explaining the imperative of investing on maternal, new-born health, Director-General of WAHO, Prof. Stanley Okolo, said, “Undue delays in seeking and delivering medical attention especially during childbirth, inadequate funding, low manpower capacity, poor health infrastructures, and weak systems were some of the factors responsible for the alarming rate of maternal and new-born child deaths in the country.”
Okolo called for “an increased budgetary allocation to the health sector as well as the articulation of relevant policies and programmes by stakeholders would deliver success.”
He said, “Childbirth should not be a death sentence in Nigeria. About 15,000 women die annually during childbirth. It is no longer acceptable, and we have to do something about it.”
He stressed that the multiplier effect of a dependable maternal, new-born care system was enormous and crucial to the overall performance of the nation’s healthcare system.
Okolo stated, “One thing to note is that there is a critical and urgent need for increased budgetary allocation to health. We seem to forget that most people in Nigeria seek healthcare out of their pocket. But, that denies poor people access. Health is a key factor that drives productivity. Countries that seek to improve their GDP must make sure their citizens are healthy.”
Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, assured of the federal government’s commitment and political will to prioritise and improve the health of mothers and new-borns. Ehanire said, “Due to cultural variations, Nigeria, just like other countries in the sub-region and around the world, may require varying strategies in delivering evidence-based, cost-effective health interventions, because strategies that work in one part, may need modifications for successful implementation in other parts of the country.”
On the importance of research to maternal and new-born health, Enahire said, “In recognition of the desire for research to shape policies on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH), WAHO, our regional body for health in sub-Saharan Africa, made research a priority in its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan.”
According to him, “The objective of the project is to improve the demand for generation and utilisation of research results for decisions making in maternal, new-born and child health programmes and policies in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, with financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.”
Speaking recently during the launch of GAVI, Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, assured of better days ahead for Nigeria with the donation by GAVI. Shuaib stated, “This is an auspicious time for the Nigerian health sector, particularly, for all the aspirations we have for the primary healthcare and vaccination.”
He added that the new funds will assist in enhancing Nigeria’s healthcare system for a “strong and sustainable primary healthcare system.”
However, the need for improved maternal, new-born health in the country remains urgent. Experts say beyond setting up national plans for the provision of health care by government, there should be a conscious effort to improve the country’s health infrastructure.
Though, attention is being focused on how to make maternal and new-born health better, the lack of healthcare infrastructure and poor implementation of the plans are grey areas that will slow the pace of growth within the sector. Beyond the fact that funds are ploughed into the system, especially in the North-east, efficient management of such funds will go a long way in addressing the inadequacies in the maternal and child health system.