by Akintunde Oyebode
“…pregnancy is not a disease” but our mothers keep dying due to ignorance.”
– Onyema Afulukwe of the Centre for Reproductive Rights.
Every year, on Mother’s Day, the church nominates a young person to deliver the sermon. It was my sister’s turn this year, and as I listened to her speak, the topic for this article hit me. Her message focused on the mother and a Christian home, a reminder of the role of mothers in nation building.
On my BlackBerry, almost everyone had a status/picture dedicated to his/her mother. It was a chance to show how venerated our mothers are, and boy did we milk it! The day left me wondering how we are able to cherish our mothers as individuals, but denigrate them as a country.
Maternal mortality is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of the termination of a pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, but not from accidental or incidental causes. This is measured by a Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR), which is the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The reduction of maternal mortality by 75% between 1990 and 2015 is the 1st target of Goal 5 (Improving Maternal Health) of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
According to the CIA Fact Book, Nigeria is 9th on the maternal mortality league table, with 840 deaths per 100,000 live births. Many say it is worse, and the actual number is over 1,000 deaths. More pessimistic commentary suggests we are now 2nd on that league table, and working actively to become number one. It is difficult to dispute this because deaths are not properly recorded in Nigeria, especially in the Northern parts, but our actual position is irrelevant. What matters is mothers are at risk, and our leaders have their Beats by Dre headphones on, unable to hear their cries.
Unsafe abortion is the biggest cause of maternal mortality in Nigeria, accounting for over 40% of maternal deaths.
As Onyema Afulukwe of the Centre for Reproductive Rights said, “pregnancy is not a disease,” but our mothers keep dying due to ignorance. We continue to neglect educating illiterate mothers and their husbands, so they ignore ante-natal care (ANC) and choose to birth their babies in dark rooms instead of hospitals. A study on Maternal and Child Health done by the Columbia University’s School of Public Health makes for depressing reading. In Katsina, Yobe and Zamfara, only 24% of the women surveyed received ANC from a trained health professional.
For live births between 2004 and 2009, 11% reported their babies were delivered by a health service professional, with an even lower proportion (9.4%) delivered in a health facility. Do we still need a committee to tell us why we are contenders for the Maternal Mortality Champions League?
The Presidential Amnesty Programme will cost us N74.2 billion. Since those model citizens are more important than investments in health care, N57 billion was allocated to capital expenditure in the health sector. Yet, our foremost nuclear physicist, Asari Dokubo, insists we spend more money to feed his household instead of saving our mothers. It is easier to visit the Holy Lands and hope for a miracle than to educate our ignorant citizenry, so the Federal Government allocated less than N1 billion to advocacy and capacity building related to maternal mortality, but will spend N1.8 billion on pilgrimages.
Unsafe abortion is the biggest cause of maternal mortality in Nigeria, accounting for over 40% of maternal deaths. Here, an abortion is only legal if done to save the life of the woman. An illegal abortion carries a jail term of 14 years for the provider, and 7 years for the woman, but has not prevented the huge number of clandestine abortions carried out daily. Our abortion rate is 25 per 1000 women aged 15- 44, resulting in over 600,000 abortions annually. Over 70% of these abortions are carried out by unskilled providers, using unsafe methods, with obvious consequences. However, the risk of dying from an abortion dramatically reduces if done by a skilled provider, preferably in a registered hospital. I’m sure you don’t need me to connect the dots.
So, next time we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s also protect the ones we lose daily.