Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. The major causes of maternal morbidity and mortality include hemorrhage, infection, high blood pressure, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labor.
According to the World Health Organization, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 66% of the estimated global maternity deaths. Most of the maternal deaths are related to direct obstetric complications mainly hemorrhage, hypertension, sepsis, and obstructed labor, which accounts for 64% of all maternal deaths. Pneumonia and HIV/AIDS account for 23%, and unsafe abortion accounts for 4% of maternal deaths in Africa.
There are complications that occur during and following pregnancy and childbirth that can contribute to maternal deaths; most if taken seriously and given attention to is treatable and preventable. The figures of death in the African region are disheartening. What is more disheartening is the fact that they are avoidable, can be managed and be reduced drastically. Though there is a decline in the maternal mortality in Africa, it remains relatively low compared to other nations of the world. We are moving but not as fast as we should, so how then do we improve on maternal and child healthcare access in Africa?
According to Muhammad Ali Pate, World Bank Group, “Maternal healthcare is one of the most important investments a country can make to build human capital and boost economic growth.” The rate of maternal and infant mortality is a reflection of the quality of our investment in the health sector. The human capital is one of the greatest assets of any Nation and Continent when the health system suffers from lack of funds, mismanagement and shortage of skilled obstetric care providers and poor access to basic emergency obstetric care. The people suffer, the nation is not an exception to this suffering as losing the valuable human asset to avoidable factors. The role of health facility delivery and increased funding in improving maternal and child health cannot be overemphasized, and it is one of the key stepping stones towards achieving SDG 3.
The unavailability of quality health care at the grassroots level cannot be overlooked. The grassroots is a place to start, they have very little and in some regions no access at all to healthcare, they are vulnerable, neglected and yes, they constitute a large percent of the victim of both maternal and infant mortality. What about their access to quality education? In our quest to improve healthcare access in Africa, we must fasten our fists and make sure quality education is provided, readily available and accessible. Bill Gates stated while addressing the now-defunct National Economic Council of its need to invest more in health and education. According to him, investment in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand-in-hand with investment in people to anchor the economy over the long term.
One prevalent factor of maternal and infant mortality is very early childbearing. It is accompanied by heightened health risks for mothers and their infants. The African Region continues to have the highest birth rate among adolescents with approximately 120 births per 1000 adolescent women. Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta 2014 stated that a 15-year-old girl living in sub-Saharan Africa faces about a 1 in 40 risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth during her lifetime. A girl of the same age living in Europe has a lifetime risk of 1 in 3,300. Early childbearing is a product of low educational attainment and poverty. Knowledge is potential power; it has the capacity to save and education is the means to bring knowledge to the people. The education provided, influences their decision of early childbearing, bringing to light the benefit and need for the presence of skilled obstetric care providers which makes available greater choices and opportunities for responsible decision-making in reproductive matters.
It is a known fact that early and regular attendance of antenatal care and delivery in a health facility under the supervision of trained personnel is associated with improved maternal health outcomes. Key interventions that reduce the risk of maternal mortality include skilled care at birth and emergency obstetric care. Newborn deaths may be substantially reduced through increased use of simple, low-cost interventions, such as breastfeeding, keeping newborns warm and dry, and treating severe newborn infection.
Improvement in maternal and child health access in Africa is not an impossible task. It is a clarion call to take up responsibility as a people, a government and a continent.
Onakpofure Mercy is a content writer with TYLC