• Friday, June 21, 2024
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Nigeria’s maternal health crisis calls for good journalism, but we need better tools

Nigeria’s maternal health crisis

Maternal mortality is one of Nigeria’s most persistent health issues. It is not news that Nigeria has consistently ranked among the countries with the highest number of maternal deaths. In 2017, the World Health Organization estimated that Nigeria contributes 12 percent of global maternal deaths. Government administrations have responded with new programmes backed by international donor funding amounting to millions of dollars, and even community organizations have banded together introducing programmes of their own to get Nigeria’s maternal health crisis under control. Some of these programmes, like Ondo State’s Abiye and the Midwives Service Scheme have been outstanding.

For most other programmes the situation is different. When launched, they are reported about but very little can be found about their impact months after. Did they work? How was the money spent? Which women or communities were affected? We need more solution stories.

It must be said that this is not a failure of journalism. Journalists have been known to uncover the dangerous effects of international business deals in local communities or lay bare the sexual harassment that is rampant in West African higher institutions. The lack of follow up about how Nigeria is working to reduce its maternal mortality is an issue of access and accountability.

Lack of access to accurate data showing Nigeria’s maternal mortality is a well-known issue. International agencies have given varying accounts about where Nigeria stands. WHO has published three different estimates for the country’s maternal mortality ratio over the last five years, all of which give different figures for the same time frame. Political leaders have openly questioned these numbers and others developed by international bodies calling them “wild estimates.” But the National Demographic Health Survey doesn’t offer any more clarity. Published every five years, the survey reports have only released maternal mortality ratios in three editions. If we look closely at the data from these surveys, it would show that the reduction in Nigeria’s maternal mortality ratio has not met the country’s own expectations.

In ten years, Nigeria and a host of other countries will be evaluated by whether they were able to achieve a set of goals to ensure a better future for their citizens. Achieving a maternal mortality ratio less than 140 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births is a big-ticket item of the third Sustainable Development Goal. If we’re going by the estimated maternal mortality ratio in the 2018 National Demographic Health Survey, Nigeria has ten years to reduce its maternal mortality ratio by more than 70 percent.

The best way to conclude whether or not this will be possible is to look at Nigeria’s track record so far. This is why we built Maternal Figures; a database of maternal health interventions implemented in Nigeria over the past 30 years. We wanted to put together a resource that would help journalists, researchers, and other stakeholders answer the question of how well interventions are working and what is the evidence available. For the last year, we surveyed dozens of donor agencies, federal and state budgets, and non-profit reports following the money allocated to these programmes.

We’ve charted maternal health policy and legislation over the last 30 years, including a policy that approved the use of a life-saving drug to treat postpartum hemorrhaging. And have collected close to 500 source documents: reports, evaluations, research, and interviews relating to these interventions. These are now available on our website.

As a result, we’re able to provide insights into who the largest funders are or what regions of the country receive the most or least amount of funding according to our research. Maternal Figures does not claim to be an exhaustive look at maternal health in Nigeria, but it is a start. In the right hands, Maternal Figures will encourage better record keeping of how Nigeria aims to meet global and national goals to keep pregnant women safe during childbirth.

In a journalist’s hands, Maternal Figures is a research tool to find stories on how well Nigeria is doing to end the maternal health crisis. It is a guide to asking the right questions, interviewing the right people, and seeing the reports first hand. With more stories, we build more awareness and hopefully we end this crisis once and for all.

Okwuosa and Asuzu are the researchers behind Maternal Figures, a database of maternal health interventions implemented in Nigeria over the last 30 years. To learn more about their work and access the database, visit maternalfigures.com.