While attention has been focused on several other health risks, the high rate of maternal mortality in Nigeria has not received the attention it deserves. In fact, it is one of the world’s most neglected problems. Maternal mortality refers to death resulting from pregnancy or child birth.
For any woman, becoming pregnant and giving birth should call for celebration but for many couples in the developing world, they are occasions that cause sorrow and grief. For these women, pregnancy and childbirth are experienced as major risks of death and disability. Globally, of the 536,000 maternal deaths recorded in 2005, developing countries accounted for over 99 percent. Of this figure, 50 percent of the deaths took place in sub-Saharan Africa while sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia accounted for 84 percent of maternal deaths in the world.
Furthermore, about 10 countries account for about two-thirds, with India contributing 22 percent or 117,000 deaths. Nigeria accounted for 10 percent of the deaths with 59,000 maternal deaths. Lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related cause in the developing world is one out of 76 live births and in the industrialised world it is one out 8000 live births. In Niger Republic, it is one out of seven live births, the highest in the world. Nigeria is not much better with lifetime risk of one out of 13 live births. In Ireland the lifetime risk is one out of 47,600 live births.
While the world has reduced maternal mortality ratio (that is number of women who die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth) by 5.4 percent, there has been no appreciable progress in sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria. Serious maternal under nutrition is still very common in Nigeria, where not enough infected women have access to HIV/AIDS treatment.
For a country like Nigeria these figures give cause for concern. There is no other country with the amount of resources Nigeria has that has such grim statistics. India has a population that is several times higher than Nigeria’s and has made enormous progress since 2005 when the research was done. In contrast, Nigeria has not made much progress since then.
The factors that cause maternal mortality are known to the average individual and to the government. Pregnant women die in Nigeria and the rest of the developing world because they lack, or at best, have limited access to healthcare. In the few instances where there is access to healthcare, the quality of care is poor. Then they die of complications such as bleeding, infection, abortion, prolonged or obstructed labour, which can be contained if there are skilled personnel, adequate facilities to handle emergencies and appropriate afterbirth care.
Maternal death has strong negative effects on the nation, the family and children. It impacts on the nation because it retards a country’s development. The nation is robbed of skilled labour especially now that women constitute a significant proportion of the nation’s workforce.
It affects the economy of the family because in many homes, women have become breadwinners or joint breadwinners with their husbands. Death resulting from pregnancy or childbirth will lead to loss of income in such families.
It is taken for granted that death of a mother will adversely affect her children both materially and emotionally. Studies have shown that an infant whose mother dies within the first six weeks of their lives is more likely to die before their second birthday relative to others whose mothers are alive.
It is therefore imperative for the government to take urgent steps to stem the tide of maternal mortality in Nigeria. It is gratifying that the Federal Ministry of Health and its partners have put together the Integrated Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (IMNCH) strategy. This initiative represents the articulation of a bold and new thinking on fast tracking comprehensive actions to change the course of maternal and child health in the country. We urge all those concerned to ensure that this initiative does not go the way of others before it.