The ranking of Nigeria as 11th country with the highest number of newborn deaths in the world ought to give government at all levels and healthcare givers a serious cause for concern. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) released the damning statistics in Lagos not quite long ago.
According to the report, eight of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are located in the sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions.
“With the newborn mortality rate of 29 deaths per 1,000 births, the global estimates rank Nigeria as the 11th highest on newborn deaths. In the recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by the Government of Nigeria in 2016/17, the rate of newborn deaths per 1,000 births is 37.
“This national average hides the differences between the 36 states and the slow progress in some of them,’’ the report said.
The report further stated that 80 per cent of the causes of newborn deaths were prematurity, asphyxia, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis.
“These deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives during antenatal and postnatal visits as well as delivery at a health facility. These should be along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact, proper cord care, and good nutrition.
“However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives means that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive,’’ it said.
The report noted that in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate was 27 deaths per 1,000 births, while in high-income countries, it was three deaths per 1,000.
A statement by UNICEF issued by Eva Hinds, spokesperson of UNICEF Nigeria, quoted Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Nigeria’s Representative as saying “a fair chance in life begins with a strong, healthy start. Unfortunately, many children in Nigeria are still deprived of this. MICS data tells us that the trend is improving but urgent action needs to be taken for Nigeria to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).’’
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director, noted that more than half the number of deaths among children under the age of five had been recorded in the last quarter of the century. She, however, lamented that the organisation had not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old.
“Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly we are failing the world’s poorest babies,’’ she said.
Reacting to the report, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Mamaye Evidence for Action, through its media advisor, LaideShokunbi, said the deaths were needless and could be prevented through more concerted efforts by the government and all stakeholders, and called for more support from the federal government to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths in the country.
One major factor responsible for this sorry state of affairs in Nigeria is the healthcare policy of the government at all levels which is not citizen-friendly and does not favour the average Nigerian woman who depends on the public hospitals and clinics to access medicare during conception. Also, owing to congestion in public healthcare destinations, deplorable service delivery and high charges, many expectant women have surrendered their fate to patent medicine dealers, hospital/clinic attendants masquerading as midwives in their neighbourhoods as well as quack healthcare givers.
In the build-up to delivery, some women do not attend ante-natal clinics regularly either out of ignorance or poverty especially in the rural communities where maternal mortality rate is very high. It is during this gestation period that the health condition of the unborn baby and the carrier is monitored to ensure safe delivery.
Overall, Nigeria’s healthcare delivery system is a casualty of the general malaise afflicting the country where nothing functions well. It is also regrettable that the public health sector is perpetually at war with itself and the government as exemplified by prolonged strike actions by doctors and other healthcare givers.
However, we acknowledge the efforts of some state governments that have put in place free medical programmes as a deliberate attempt to address the needs and challenges of maternal and child care. These policies are commendable. Being pregnant up to the time of delivery should not be a matter of life and death. The joy of motherhood is not only to have a safe delivery but also to see the babies survive after birth.