The high rate of death is a major public health issue that must be addressed urgently

The scale of maternal mortality in Nigeria has become so alarming that we must call on the health authorities in both Abuja and the 36 states as well as international donor agencies to fashion out a blueprint that will extenuate the rising cases. As at today, maternal mortality in Nigeria is estimated at 14 per cent. What makes the situation unacceptable is that this is coming at a period when the global maternal mortality has dropped by about 43 per cent since 1990. That Nigeria remains one of the sub-Saharan African nations with the highest number of such cases is therefore nothing but a crying shame.

To worsen matters, available reports indicate that one out of every three Nigerian children under the age of five is stunted and suffering from chronic malnutrition. Stunted growth implies a marked increase in the child’s susceptibility to infections and contributes to child mortality. Invariably, pregnant women who are not adequately nourished eventually give birth to babies with low weight thus putting their survival at risk. The costs of disregarding this issue in human and economic terms cannot be quantified. But to properly address this serious public health issue, we must begin to examine how to mitigate the acute poverty that has become the lot of our people, especially in the rural areas. According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, only 40 per cent of women in low income countries, including Nigeria, visit pre and antenatal care units.

Early this year, Mr Bill Gates, who co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, classified Nigeria as one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth and also the 4th country with the worst maternal mortality rate after Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. In similar vein, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) disclosed that on every passing day, the country loses about 2,300 children under the age of five and 145 women of childbearing age.

The crisis at hand was recently mirrored by Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewoye, when he said that at least one out of every 18 women in the country dies at childbirth. This is a serious issue that should concern those in charge of healthcare in the country aside another disclosure that Nigeria also has the highest burden in the world of children born with HIV infection from birth. The rampant cases of mother to child transfer of the HIV virus is indeed unacceptable against the background that there exist drugs capable of preventing such cases.

It must be underscored that when a pregnant woman avoids prenatal care, she puts herself under the risk of postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), a complication arising from childbirth, which can result in a fatal outcome. Meanwhile, women who do not have access to healthcare are prone to unassisted delivery carried out by quack midwives in unhealthy conditions with dire consequences for both the mother and foetus. The authorities, at both the federal and the states, should therefore find ways to cushion the economic burden on most of the women who dwell in the rural areas, as that has been identified as the reason for their inability to afford quality prenatal and post-natal care.

We call on the authorities and critical stakeholders in Nigeria to develop and nurture different policies, programmes and quality care interventions that focus on maternal, new born and child health. That many hospitals in the country are without the necessary drugs while their facilities are out-modelled and begging for urgent renovation is a situation that needs to be redressed. We cannot continue to put the lives of our women and children at risk and expect to develop as a nation.