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Health: 'Africa must scale up strategies to reduce maternal mortality'

Yaounde, Cameroon - African countries will need to develop new approaches that will help reduce the scourge of maternal mortality through adequate allocation of resources, advocacy, research, capacity building and access to Sexual and Reproductive Health.

This formed part of the views expressed on Friday during the concluding session of the sixth edition of the Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, in Yaounde.

The conference which started on Monday with the theme 'Eliminating Women and Girls Vulnerabilities and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Africa”, has over 500 participants from across Africa and Beyond.

Giving an overview of the Maternal Mortality (MM) in Africa, the participants observed that  though many countries are making progress in reducing MM, most of the funding are coming from international donor agencies, which makes the continent vulnerable.

They said that MM has been a major challenge facing Africa, the political will to address the issue not enough and most of the deaths that result from MM preventable, if only access is improved.

Pregnant women need access to safe delivery care, but at present, for example in Ghana more than 30% of women still give birth alone or with a neighbour to help them. At least 1 to 4 Ghanaian women have an unmet need for family planning.

The participants also noted that healthy mothers are key to meeting other developmental goals.

The Millennium Development Goal 5, which calls for a reduction in maternal mortality ratio by 75% and universal access to reproductive services by 2015, is the MDG’s that shows least progress in Ghana and other countries like Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Investing in maternal health is investing in the future of women and their families as well as the economic productivity and long-term stability of the nation.

Meeting the needs of women would further decrease maternal mortality as preventing unwanted pregnancy is the most effective way to prevent deaths from maternal causes, they said.

“In 2001, African leaders pledged to allocate at least 15% of their national budget to health. But more than 10 years after, many of them have not kept to that promise. Even my country Cameroon has not done that. If they have allocated more resources and judiciously used, we would have gone far,' Dr. William Takay told the gathering.

He said his country has not made much progress in reducing MM because of the harsh economic policy implemented under the structural adjustment programme which led to slash in public workers' salaries, funding of health and the closing down of all schools training midwives.

However, worried by the increase in MM rate, the government started to implement an intervention programme that includes financial mobilization, monitoring and evaluation, capacity building, communications and sexual sensitization of the people.

The Director, Technical Services of the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, a member Association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Dr. Edmore Munongo, said a steady increase in the use of condoms from 35% in 1984 to 60% in 2006, has been recorded due to its various awareness programme.

“We still have unmet need for Family Planning, estimated at 13% on a regional average. We still find it hard to reach areas and there are cultural and religious issues to contend with. The knowledge of contraceptive and Family Planning is high now, we have received good donor supports which has enable us scale up information on Sexual and Reproductive Health.' he added.

Dr. Patrick Aboagye from the Ghana Health Service, said the country sees the issue of maternal health as a developmental one not a health issue, stressing that governance and accountability matters have been given priority with government officials donating 10% of their salaries to reduce MM.

Prof. Friday Okonofua of the Ford Foundation, Lagos, stressed the need  for more research into state of Sexuality in Africa by Africans, stressing that a huge knowledge gap exists on the continent which demands urgent intervention.

According to him, “There is limited publications and research by Africans. Most of what we know about sexuality in Africa are from outside, so we rely on what the International research organisations do. But they lack deep knowledge about Africa. We need to embark on capacity building, we need institutions to invest on what we don’t know. We need systemic integration of under graduate and post graduate studies to get informed data”. 

To further check MM, participants also suggested the need to scale up the use of trained and skilful birth attendants, and attention to the quality of contraceptives imported into Africa, as most of them are below standard.

Pana 08/02/2014