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African Maternal and Child Mortality Rate Remains High Despite Improvements Elsewhere

  • Chineme Wilson

Sub-Saharan Africa’s maternal and child mortality rate remains high despite an overall worldwide reduction, according to The Lancet medical journal.

About 350,000 women die annually from child-birth related accidents. As a result, the group Human Rights Watch is pressing for women and children’s health care to be at the forefront of the G8 summit in June.

It’s been 10 years since most world government’s made a commitment to reduce maternal and child mortality rates. As part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an agreement was made to tackle preventable child-birth fatalities. But little progress has been made in Sub-Saharan Africa.

What went wrong?

Samuel Akhigbe was excited about becoming a father. He took his wife to deliver her baby at a reputable maternity hospital in Lagos, Nigeria.

“Constantly I was talking with all of the doctors on ground and they kept telling me everything was fine, was good right up to the time they wheeled her into the theatre. Just before they did that, they listened again to the child’s heart beat. And for the tenth time, I heard the heart beat very strong,” he says.

Then tragedy struck. The baby died right after delivery and the doctors never gave the devastated parents an explanation.

“I couldn’t believe all of the nine months and everything, the heart beat I had listened to and everything I had listed to was like an illusion,” he says.

Although he was given no official cause of death, Akhigbe believes his child’s death was preventable.

“They shouldn’t have waited all the while for her to be dilated. They should have gone ahead with the cesarean by 4 p.m.. Danita was probably weak from all the struggling and [medicine] they gave to Jessica,” he says.

Falling short of the goal

Liesl Gerntholtz, a Human Rights Watch group advocate, says of all the Millennium Development Goals, the least progress has been made in maternal and child mortality reduction. However, she is hopeful the upcoming G8 summit will lead to greater funding for women’s reproductive care.

“A lot of women die because of hemorrhaging. So you need the facilities to be able to give them blood transfusions and being able to store adequate quantities of blood. Obstructive labor is also a huge cause of death. So you ultimately need to refer women to where they can have a safe cesarean section,” she says.

And access to health care systems.

Gerntholtz says, “That means you need to have trained health care workers, you need facilities, you need good transport systems and you need to give women information about what they need to do.”

She says funding to poor countries must be monitored to ensure it’s well spent.

“We hope that resources will be made available to poorer countries. We hope that when those resources are made available that there will be proper mechanisms to ensure that the money is spent…. And that ultimately systems that are developed protect women’s human rights,” she says.

Bereaved parents like Akhigbe say they want global health policies to benefit everyday people in developing nations.

“Most of the facilities are actually not there and most of the people to implement them are not doing anything about it. So we have young doctors working with little of nothing and miracles are expected. First it has to do with getting implementation for all these so called policies,” he says.

The Lancet medical journal says six countries account for over half of maternal deaths: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.