At the recently concluded ’23 Media and Development Conference organised by the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) in Abuja, experts spoke on advancing innovative ways and practices to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality in Nigeria. Anthonia Obokoh reports.
One of the targets of sustainable development goal SDG 3 is to reduce maternal and child mortality, with the goal of ending all preventable child deaths by 2030 and reducing the maternal mortality rate to fewer than 70 Out of every 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organisation.
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Nigeria is faced with many challenges but admits the fluctuating economy, one thing remains constant in the country, and that thing is sexual reproduction. The current total for children under the age of 5 stands at nearly 31 million while each year at least 7 million babies are born according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF report on the situation of women and children in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate for 2020-2023 is estimated at 1047 deaths per 100,000 live births, this indicates the number of maternal deaths that occurred during pregnancy, childbirth, or within 42 days after the termination of pregnancy. However, high maternal mortality rates often direct challenges in healthcare systems, access to maternal health services, and the overall well-being of pregnant women.
Reducing maternal mortality is a global health priority, nevertheless, it is crucial to continuously recognise that addressing maternal and neonatal mortality is an involved task that requires different approaches, involving not only the healthcare sector but also education, infrastructure development, and community engagement.
Continued efforts and sustained investments are necessary to make lasting improvements in maternal and neonatal health outcomes in Nigeria. In this, with the theme ‘Bridging Democracy, Innovation, and Media Sustainability in West Africa’ at the media and development conference discussion advancing innovative ways and practices to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality.
The panel’s objective is to basically stimulate discussions on the current status limitations opportunities, and propose actionable steps and strategies for advancing innovative practices to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality.
Adaeze Oreh, commissioner for Health in River State, discussed the barriers to adopting innovative approaches in reducing maternal and neonatal mortality in Nigeria.
“Innovation is not always about something necessarily new; it brings to our minds the fact that sometimes, it involves changing our mindset and thinking,” she stressed.
Following the historical framework, according to Oreh, we had the Millennium Development Goals before the Sustainable Development Goals. The critical aspects of the Millennium Development Goals aimed at ending maternal and child deaths, particularly neonatal deaths of newborns.
“Intention is a critical barrier. Women are dying not because these deaths are unavoidable; maternal and newborn deaths are preventable. The issue lies in not determining that their lives are worth saving. It’s about intention, especially when exploring innovative practices and protocols, many of which are not entirely new,” she further said.
She also said there was a need for a change in mindset to adopt and institutionalise research findings. “These findings should not merely be published in papers and left on shelves but used to save the lives of women and newborns, ultimately changing the indices.”
Oreh stated that embracing technology is unavoidable. Creating mechanisms for reporting deaths and ensuring active routine surveillance of maternal mortality is essential for timely interventions and progress monitoring.
Also speaking Raihanah Ibrahim, principal, Solina Centre for International Development highlighting from a public health or development sector perspective said that new ways of looking at things and innovative approaches are being explored in the field of healthcare.
According to her, with significant investments in managing health risks, ensuring financial resources for scalable interventions, and adhering to international and local standards, various courts, conventions, and declarations have been made over time to advance innovative practices, which is leading to the development of impactful programs.
“Addressing maternal mortality, the most common cause of death for mothers is postpartum haemorrhage, occurring when excessive bleeding happens during childbirth. Delays in seeking healthcare, from the decision to go to a healthcare facility to the actual reception of care, contribute to maternal mortality.
“For neonatal mortality, factors such as neonatal sepsis contribute to the challenges. Reproductive Maternal and Child Health programs in Nigeria, including nutrition initiatives, focus on innovative solutions to address these issues. Notable innovations include a pocket-sized ultrasound machine and a single test kit capable of detecting various febrile illnesses. Artificial intelligence (AI) is also being utilized for diagnosis and risk assessment,” she stated.
Ibrahim added that in the clinical and diagnostic realms, there are efforts to develop stable products like heat-stable oxytocin to overcome supply chain challenges. “International donors play a crucial role in strengthening public health systems by contributing to innovative solutions.”
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However, the practical application of innovation is emphasized, recognizing that not all communities have access to high-tech solutions like smartphones. “The need to educate women and communities is needed, addressing misconceptions around contraception and promoting the benefits of delivering in health facilities is also a concern and behavioural change is seen as a key tool to shift harmful norms that contribute to preventable deaths, aiming to change mentalities and improve overall maternal and child health,” she said.
Earlier while speaking, Chioma Akanno, founder of Smile with Me Foundation and moderator of the panel discussion advocating for policy implementations, education and cultural change in behaviour said the global maternal mortality report titled ‘Trends in maternal mortality 2000 to 2020’ showed that the country records 82,000 maternal deaths every year. This translates to 225 deaths from maternal mortality every day—an alarming statistic that underscores the urgent need for attention and action.
“The contributors to this tragic reality are deeply rooted in cultural norms shaping perspectives on childbearing, not only during pregnancy but also extending to delivery and postpartum up to 42 days.
Speaking on these issues, Akanno points to the influence of cultural norms, community practices, and religious factors. “Religious leaders have significant influence, impacting people’s perceptions of treatment plans and interventions. The linking of cultural, community and religious factors creates a complex landscape, contributing to challenges around seeking healthcare, particularly in clinics or health facilities.”
According to her, poverty and illiteracy are prevalent among the majority of Nigerians, and the need for effective solutions becomes even more critical. With the existence of promising policies, it is important for implementation.
“One of the ways to also be effective about that is taking up your own role, this calls for individuals at the helm of affairs who possess not only intelligence but also emotional intelligence, recognizing the urgency of addressing maternal mortality.
“To address these challenges, government agencies are urged to co-create with existing innovators in the private sector rather than competing with them. Recognizing the limitations of governmental projects, collaboration with the dynamic private sector is seen as essential for creating sustainable solutions.
She further pointed out that education emerges as a primary prevention strategy at all levels. There is a need to educate people to understand the problem and their role as stakeholders in healthcare. Everyone is encouraged to be an advocate, whether at the policy level or as a recipient of healthcare services.
“Collective efforts and strategic partnerships are imperative to combat maternal mortality in Nigeria,” Akanno stressed.
In the dimension of intersection of technology and maternal and infant healthcare, Abiodun Adereni. Founder and chief executive officer of HelpMum Africa, said tech serves as a very potent tool to address the issue of infant and maternal care and mortality adding that collaboration is key in utilising technology effectively.
According to Adereni, “When developing any tech product, as an innovator, you have to consider firstly, the people that you’re going to be deploying into the app to be able to use the solution.
Secondly, to be able to also reach a massive scale at impact, you have to consider the stakeholders, and who are the stakeholders, the government, institutional donors, and communities.
These are the ways you can scale innovation, with tech innovation in partnership with these people.”
Speaking further, “About HelpMum, one of the things we have been able to do successfully is to develop innovative products. We scale and incorporate it into the healthcare system of the government.
We have the HelpMum vaccination tracker which helps to generally move state government from using paper cards to digital innovation. We also have help from an adviser who helps to predict the barrier to why mothers would not be taking their children for immunisation and provide interventions to them.
We also have the help of a chat box also is being used by mothers as a reminder tool for those who can take their children for immunisation you can also use it to find the closest hospital to them and also talk to a doctor about any questions you have about immunization.”
“I personally believe that innovations like these are meant to be incorporated into the government system so they can be able to even track how immunisation is done in their respective state. With this, the government can also be able to track data and provide insights about the learnings about why people are not taking their children for immunisation.
This can also help the government to effectively plan on how they can be able to cater for people and ensure that vaccines are readily available to mothers in their state. These are the roles that technology and stakeholders can help drive down the rate to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality in Nigeria,” Adereni said.
In the same vein, Nnaemeka Ajunwa, digital health lead, reliance health delves into how data and evidence can effectively be utilised to identify and prioritise innovative practices in maternal and neonatal healthcare said “In identifying problems, it’s crucial to understand the real issues at hand, their magnitude, and contributing factors.
Data plays a pivotal role in answering questions like, ‘What is the real problem? How big is this problem? What contributes to this problem?’ For instance, understanding maternal mortality rates in Nigeria requires data. It’s not enough to say women are dying; we need data to quantify and analyse the causes, such as haemorrhage during delivery. This process involves looking at the evidence and statistics to drive problem-solving efforts.”
Making more emphasis Ajunwa said when it comes to data collection, we often talk about digitization. However, in our context, especially in rural areas where technology infrastructure is limited, digitisation may not be straightforward.
“Building upon existing systems, such as paper-based records, becomes crucial. Specialised record books and programs can streamline data capture, and then efforts can be made to translate this data into digital formats for broader accessibility.”
“Storing data in a way that is accessible to stakeholders is another critical aspect. Organizations, government bodies, and individuals interested in healthcare need easy access to relevant data to understand and address problems. Analysis of data trends is essential for uncovering causes and advising on effective solutions. A key part of analysis involves evaluating the cost versus impact, especially in resource-constrained environments.”
” Data not only helps identify problems but also enhances the effectiveness of solutions. From quantifying issues to prioritizing options and utilizing AI for predictive purposes, data is the linchpin in addressing challenges in maternal and neonatal healthcare,” he said.