Every year, women and children continue to die in their millions from easily preventable diseases. To many of them, life from birth to death is agonisingly painful, drab, empty and oftentimes cut short by extreme poverty and disease.
Living, particularly for those in the rural areas, is close to hell on earth and dying sometimes provides a huge relief from this hellish existence.
United Nations Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF statistics indicate that no fewer than 800 women die every day due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth.
Of the 800 daily maternal deaths, 500 occur in sub- Saharan Africa and 190 in Southern Asia, compared to 6 in the developed countries. Over the years, this number had continued to decrease by 45percent from an estimated 523,000 in 1990 to 289,000 in 2013. Although the progress is noteworthy, the annual rate of decline is less than half of what is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by 75percent between 1990 and 2015, which would require an annual decline of 5.5percent.
This state of hopelessness and the pathetic conditions women and children in Nigeria and Africa go through became worse as a result of gross neglect by both government and the larger society. The lifetime risk of maternal deaths in Africa is estimated at 1:16, for Asia it is 1:1000, Latin America is 1:1600, Europe 1:2400 and North America 1:3500.
The situation for children is as bad as that of women. Infant mortality rate, IMR, has increased and the mortality rate for children under the age of 5 is also on the increase.
This, sadly, is the sorry state of health of women and children in Nigeria and Africa, though the condition of the men is not significantly better. However, the overwhelming percentage of the population, irrespective of gender or age faces the daily trauma of abject poverty, hunger and diseases, as well as other forms of deprivations. But painfully, women and children are the most vulnerable by virtue of their sex and age, and that is why they deserve special attention.
Today, the blame for the sorry state of women and children is definitely on the poor state of Nigeria’s health system. For example, the Federal Ministry of Health report concerning Primary Health Care, PHC services, says only 48.8percent of PHC facilities in the country provide antenatal care services, 42.9percent give delivery services and only 43.9percent provide postnatal care. Therefore, Nigeria must reorder its priorities to meet the health services for the people and more efficiently, the World Health Organisation, WHO’s recommendation that at least 5percent of the national budget be strictly used for the health sector.
The African Regional Reproductive Health Task Force Roadmap, whose aim is to achieve the MDGs target of reducing maternal mortality rate by three-quarters by 2015, remains a huge task yet to be accomplished as growing poverty, especially among women and children, lack of access to and availability of skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the immediate postnatal period, poorly functioning health systems with a weak referral system and harmful socio-cultural beliefs and practices are visible hindrances.
These are the obstacles daily being encountered, but difficult as they maybe, they are not insurmountable; it is only a question of prioritising needs and the importance attached to the womenfolk and children by the society and nation at large.
Therefore, we must be seen to be re-arranging our priorities to meet these urgent needs.
Above all, Government should increase its allocation to the health sector and help to reduce leakages in its expenditure because a situation where less than one-fifth of its paltry budget for health goes for capital expenditure is unacceptable. The health budget should therefore be increased so that funds are made available for the provision of better maternal services, check and fight children’s diseases, as well as step up health awareness campaigns; training more health workers to meet the expanding health needs of not just women and children, but the society as a whole and improve on preventive capacity and capability.
Additionally, women and children are society’s most valued assets. They represent its conscience, promise, innocence and above all, life. We must therefore make sure that such precious lives are not devalued or wasted through needless neglect.