Government could do more to prevent many of these unnecessary deaths

The scale of maternal mortality in Nigeria has become so alarming that we must call on the health authorities to fashion out a blueprint that will extenuate this pressing challenge. “The cases of maternal mortality can be attributed to not being able to reach the hospital. If you add those ones who reached the hospital and are not attended to because of deposit, they are going to be between 30 to 40 per cent”, said Health Minister, Ehinare who recently indulged himself in the usual lamentation about our plight to which officials of the current administration have become renowned. “Nigeria has about 512 maternal mortalities per 100,000 births now. That’s about the worst in the world. To make matters worse, COVID-19 has hit the country in a way that it has crippled everything.”  

That five of 1000 Nigerian women die while delivering their babies is frightening. Latest statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) also revealed that Nigeria accounts for over 34 per cent of global maternal deaths while the lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, or after an abortion for a Nigerian woman is one in 22, compared to one in 4900 in developed countries. Sadly, many of the rural communities in the 36 states of the country lack cottage hospitals and medical facilities that will address these challenges. Where they exist, there is shortage of manpower while medical facilities are obsolete. Instances abound of pregnant women who have had to die in the process of commuting from their homes to a medical facility. 

Yet, 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. Besides, 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. To 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. 

However, we must put the blame partly on the state governments and the lack of attention by many of them to primary health care system at the grassroots. It is even worse that most of them have rendered prostrate the local government administration in their states, leaving healthcare delivery at that level comatose. The solution therefore goes beyond mere formulation of some policies by the federal government. There should be a framework where states and local governments are held accountable for maternal child health care services in their domains. 

The authorities, at both the federal and the states, should also 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. There should be a special focus on maternal, new-born and child health.  Hospitals should be equipped with the necessary drugs while their facilities should be renovated. We cannot continue to put the lives of our women at risk and expect to develop as a nation. 

Going forward, there is also a need to go beyond rhetoric and promises, to actionable plans to address all the existing gaps in the primary health sector. We must end the agony and tears of mothers who carry pregnancy for nine months only to die at the point of delivery. 

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