What is Africa’s Excuse for Maternal and Newborn Mortality? – Lanre Olagunju

One would have felt that by now the issue of maternal, newborn and child mortality would have been a thing of the past in Africa, considering the fact that many of the diseases responsible for the deaths are practically preventable and curable. The question then is what is the problem, what is Africa's excuse for not having many of its nations in the category of nations that has successfully achieved MDG4 which is centered on reducing child mortality? How tenable are these excuses? How can we lose newborns and their mothers to preventable causes and then have a tenable excuse for that? In the 21st century for that matter!

Just recently in Luanda, Angola, African Health Ministers again refreshed their commitments to put an end to preventable maternal, newborn and child death in the continent. Are these commitment going to one day be translated into better outcomes that would reflect in the maternal, newborn and child death statistics? The solution to these challenges are quite feasible and in many cases affordable. But lack of focus, prioritization and political will to come up with relevant policies and initiatives to tackle this challenge from the grassroots has remained the main cause of the continental setback, but then that is no excuse.

Report has it that nine of the 10 riskiest countries in the world for a baby to be born are in Africa. That is not only sad, it's unimaginable. And it implies that the average African newborn has the worst chances of staying alive till age 5. Championing this continental course would require that African leaders do more than verbally refresh commitments to maternal, newborn and child health. The dying mothers in poor communities would rather have them do the little things that should be done, they would rather have them provide food to ensure that pregnant women have enough food to take them through pregnancy. They would rather have them ensure more midwives are available at the clinics and that antenatal care is readily available at affordable cost.

This reminds me of the words of a Ugandan-born pediatrician, professor Joy Lawn, when she said in an interview that "Some of the poorest African countries have made the most progress in reducing newborn deaths, by picking simple things to do and doing them well." That again helps to emphasize the reason why all stake holders involved in eradicating maternal and newborn mortality should be more concerned about identifying little things that can produce colossal outcomes, and then do them well, just like Joy Lawn emphasized. If the causes of these deaths are preventable and many of the complications treatable, and yet African countries occupy the list of world's worst death rate on maternal death, going by the 2012 report, then it means that enough hasn't been done!

A report from a recent study has it that it will take over a century before a baby born in Africa has the same chance of survival as a baby born in North America or Europe. That kind of spell doom for African newborns! On the other hand, it's quite amazing to see poor African countries doing well in harnessing the use of technology and other readily available resources to further advance the health of mothers and newborn.

In line with achieving the MDGs4 and MDGs5 and beyond, it is critical that we begin to look into new ways of using existing resources. In Rwanda for instance, the use of mobile phones has been employed to increase the survival chances of mothers and newborn. This has been achieved through an application referred to as RapidSMS, which has greatly improved antenatal and neonatal service delivery at the village level. The system is structured to support maternal, neonatal and early child health at the community level. Also, in Rwanda, a system has been designed so that pregnant women can subscribe to emergency alert to ensure that they assess quick obstetric care. That's innovative! Little wonder why Rwanda in the last ten years has successfully reduced newborn deaths far more than any low income country in the entire world.

Recently, Professor Joy Lawn pointed to Rwanda and Malawi as perfect examples of how public health policies can influence tremendous changes despite that these countries are well known to be poor. At least they are not rich with oil money like a country like Nigeria who hasn't lived up to expectations in area of eradicating or reducing maternal and newborn deaths.

Countries can take a cue from poor countries who have produced phenomenal result and see how they can imbibe some of their approaches, because Africa as a continent doesn't have any tenable excuse why mothers and newborns will be dieing for all the preventable reasons. I see no reason why a giant of Africa like Nigeria for instance shouldn't take lessons from Malawi – which is evidently one of the world's poorest nation, yet, has reduced newborn deaths about three times as fast as the average country in Africa. And come to think of it, this has been achieved just by providing better care for women, better antenatal and post natal care and also by paying attention to newborns. The beauty lies in the fact that many of these winning approaches can be replicated anywhere, and like Professor Lawn stated in her report, many can be done without medications, electricity or high medical equipment or even specialized skills.




Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist. He has a degree in hydrology from the University of Agriculture Abeokuta and a professional diploma in journalism from the American College of Journalism. Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He's @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.

Looking into new ways of using existing resources to reduce maternal and newborn death