Coinciding with Friday’s observance of the African Day for the Reduction of Maternal and Newborn Mortality, Cameroon disclosed that tens of thousands of newborn babies continue to die at birth and thousands of women continue to lose their lives while giving birth each year in the central African of 25 million. Health officials say the situation is worse on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria, where most mothers do not go to hospitals.
Martina Lukong Baye, Cameroonian Coordinator of the National Multisector Program to Combat Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality, says it is unfortunate that the number of mothers and babies dying in Cameroon has remained high due to many women neglecting prenatal care and some delivering at home using untrained traditional birth attendants.
"We are counting about 4,000 women dying every year from causes linked to pregnancy or delivery. It is pathetic. It is about 22,000 newborn babies that we lose every year. It is really, really unacceptable." Baye said.
Cameroon's Ministry of Public Health, however, reports that the number of pregnant women who die has dropped from 8,000 in 2015 to 4,000 in last year, and babies who are dying each year has decreased from 30,000 in 2015 to 22,000 last year.
Baye says Cameroon could do more to reduce most of the deaths by paying more attention to reasons why the women and babies die.
"The first direct cause of women dying in Cameroon is bleeding. We do not have enough blood available in our health facilities to give these women. The other cause too, now, that is quite prominent now is hypertension in pregnancy. The other cause now would be infection after delivery and, of course, home deliveries," Baye said.
According to a 2018 Cameroon government-sponsored demographic and health survey, 33% of Cameroonian deliveries are carried out at home or with African traditional birth attendants, without trained health staff members.
The situation is critical on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria, where Boko Haram has chased medical staff away and torched hospitals, and the border with the Central African Republic that has been an epicenter of CAR rebel atrocities.
Malachie Manaouda, Cameroon’s health minister, says the government has taken measures to improve health care delivery at hospitals as an urgent measure to reduce the deaths.
He says the universal health coverage plan Cameroon is developing prioritizes mother and child care. He says President Paul Biya is personally supervising the plan as an indication of a strong political will to stop women from dying while giving birth, and babies from dying before, during or shortly after birth.
Manaouda said Cameroon has, within the past three years, equipped maternities and trained and recruited about a thousand midwives and pediatricians to attend to the needs of mothers and babies. He also said the government two years ago instructed all hospitals on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria and Cameroon’s border with CAR to offer free prenatal care.
The African Day for the Reduction of Maternal and Newborn Mortality, observed since 2009, offers an opportunity for African countries, members of the African Union, to intensify actions aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality, examine challenges faced, and press for greater political commitment among African countries to stop mothers and babies from dying.