Eight Years of Safe Motherhood Initiative: Progress, Lessons, Prospects

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Uchechukwu Nnaike highlights the efforts of an indigenous oil and gas firm to reduce the maternal and child mortality rate in the country and the progress made so far

If the reports of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG3) and World Health Organisation (WHO) on the good health and child and maternal mortality rates are to be taken seriously, initiatives that support women of childbearing age to safely deliver their babies must be emulated not only by the government, but also by corporate institutions in Nigeria.

According to a 2010 report by the WHO, the infant mortality rate in Nigeria was estimated at 71 deaths per 1,000 live births and a woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth was put at one in three.

The UNs’ SDG 3 aims at “ensuring healthy lives for the global population and promoting well-being for all ages”, and the main targets include reduction of the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030 and ending preventable deaths of new borns and children under five years old by the same period. All countries are expected to aim for reduction of neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-five mortality to at least 25 per 1,000 births by 2030.

These and other healthcare reports inspired government and other organisations to work on changing the narrative for mothers and infants by supporting actions targeted at reducing maternal and child mortality in Nigeria, through corporate sustainability efforts and actions geared towards equipping women of child-bearing age with safe pregnancy and childcare guidelines to address matters relating to child and maternal mortality in the country.

An example of a corporate institution that cares for women of child-bearing age in Nigeria is Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc, an indigenous oil and gas firm doing its bit to uplift mothers and children. It pioneered the ‘Safe Motherhood’ initiative eight years ago in Sapele, Delta State as an outreach programme for its Western Assets operational base.

The initiative was also organised at other Seplat’s operational areas in Edo and Imo States. The event, which is organised annually, has consistently addressed the needs of pregnant women in Seplat’s host communities and educated mothers with vital information required for safe pregnancy and childcare.

The annual Safe Motherhood programme is targeted at addressing the rising child and maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.
A UNICEF report on maternal and child health revealed that “in a single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under five-year-olds and 145 women of childbearing age”, making the country the second-largest contributor to under-five and maternal mortality rate globally. To reduce this trend, there have been several interventions by the government and private sector, among which is the yearly Safe Motherhood Programme initiated by Seplat.

The initiative has touched many lives and reduced maternal and child mortality in the impacted communities; besides providing life-saving tips and training to mothers, essential drugs and insecticide-treated mosquito nets and maternity bags are given to all expectant mothers by Seplat during the event.

In the past five years alone, more than 24,499 expectant mothers and thousands of infants have benefited from the free maternal health care initiative.

At the Safe Motherhood medical outreach held recently in Sapele, Delta State, Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc exposed mothers to training and pregnancy tips.

Speaking at the event, the General Manager, External Affairs and Communication, Dr. Chioma Nwachuku, represented by the Base Manager, Western Assets, Mr. Emmanuel Otokhine, indicated that from the onset, the company was motivated to embark on the initiative “to provide maternal and child health interventions and the revitalisation of primary health centres in our communities which will lead to the reduction of maternal and infant mortality”.

Also speaking, the Deputy Manager, Seplat JV, NPDC, Mr. Efifia Chu said: “Safe Motherhood Programme is implemented in Seplat communities in the Niger Delta that have very limited or no access to quality health care. These communities have a high rate of teenage pregnancies because of the inherent socio-economic factors. The programme provides education and relevant information on modern safe pregnancy and delivery practices for the expectant women.”

He further highlighted the practical nature of the programme, which includes the distribution of safe motherhood kits, vitamins and mineral supplements, as well as insecticide treated mosquito nets for the prevention of malaria. As a result of the Safe Motherhood initiative, the lives of pregnant women in over 60 communities have been positively impacted.

The Assistant Director (Geology), Gas Department, Delta State Ministry of Oil and Gas, Dr. Ikoro Efe, who represented the Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Delta State, commended Seplat for the CSR programmes, which have positively impacted the lives of members of the host communities. He urged the company to sustain the initiative.

“This is very commendable and I would like to say a big thank you to Seplat for coming up with such an initiative to support the Delta state government and its people,” he said.

The Safe Motherhood initiative however, goes beyond just maternal and child mortality issues. The programme also teaches child spacing methods for the well-being of mother, child and the whole family and provides counselling for women with other ailments such as high blood pressure in pregnancy, gestational diabetes and anaemia.

By focusing on the salient issues, the Safe Motherhood programme helps Nigeria meet up with SDG 3 which promotes good health and well-being.
Though it has been established that there have been other government and private sector interventions in Nigeria, the Safe Motherhood initiative is unique because of features such as: Buy-in of institutional stakeholders comprising the state governments, ministries of health, medical and professional associations and community health centres; cooperation from communities derived from the trust and transparency resulting from mode of deployment of the programme; and Seplat board and management commitment with the provision of budget for executing the programme in view of its numerous benefits.

With this level of backing, it is hardly surprising that over the last five years alone, the programme has achieved screening of 24,499 pregnant women, vaccination of 1,500 children, renovation and equipping of a 30-bed female and children’s ward in a hospital, revitalisation of three health centres in various communities and driving traffic to them, and integration of Traditional Birth Attendants to modern safe delivery methods in Seplat’s Western Asset communities and making inroads in the Eastern Asset.

Though Seplat’s intervention has made an impact in its host communities, much more effort is required by individuals and other organisation to reduce the maternal and child mortality rate across the country so as to attain the SDG3.