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Maternal mortality in Northern Nigeria still at an alarming rate


Nigeria is one of the youngest countries in the world – not in terms of when it was founded but in terms of the age of its population. According to the 2017 revision of the World Population Prospects, there are 19.9 million children in Nigeria and 44% percent of the population is below the age of 15. To put this in perspective: 11 out of every 25 Nigerians are children.

UNICEF cites more than 20,000 children are born every single day from Borno to Lagos; that come to make up the massive below age ten population of this country. And for all 20,000 births, 821 women die during childbirth.

Currently, Nigeria is the highest contributor to maternal mortality in Central and Western Africa and accounts for 14% of the global maternal mortality rate.

The country is currently ranked 187th out of 191 countries in healthcare delivery. It  is also the second largest contributor to maternal mortality worldwide, after India. One Nigerian woman dies every 13 minutes – that is 109 women dying each day – from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Add that to Northern Nigeria’s increasing child marriage rate and you have an atomic bomb.

According to GirlsNotBrides, a non-profit organization trying to eradicate child marriage, 17% of girls are married before the age of 15 and 44% are married before the age of 18. UNICEF predicts, in the North-West, figures are as high as 68% for child marriages. As a result of such high child marriage rates, pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death among young women aged 15-19 years in Nigeria.

Adolescent mothers are at particular risk for maternal conditions such as anaemia, obstructed labour and fistula. They are also less likely to use skilled maternal health services than mothers over age 20. UNICEF accounts a third of 15-19 year-olds in Northern Nigeria have delivered a child without the help of a health professional, a traditional birth attendant, or even a friend or relative. Less than half of women attend the recommended four or more prenatal care visits when pregnant. Only a third of women seek the recommended care during the postnatal period, a proportion that has remained low over the past decade. Only 6 in 10 mothers receive antenatal care from a trained medical professional.

Good antenatal care can prevent the major causes of neonatal mortality in Nigeria — neonatal tetanus, malaria, and maternal anaemia  — but with such damning figures, few women get access to good healthcare. Barriers to seeking optimal maternity care include the cost of services, distance to health facilities, and long waiting times for those seeking care at public health facilities. Abuse and mistreatment of care-seekers by health care providers at public health facilities is also widespread.

Other barriers to seeking and receiving appropriate care by women include insensitive providers, a lack of information on the importance of care and illiteracy, inadequate and perceived poor quality services, and negative socio-cultural practices.

With the current government, it seems things might not change for the better. The 2018 budget for Nigeria has just 3.9% allocation to the health sector, which is a drop from 4.16% and 4.23% allocated in 2016 and 2017 respectively. This means only N1,888 will be spent on each citizen the whole year.  And with the current proposed budget, there’s no way that rating can improve positively. Details on the budget proposed, revealed that health came 12th as power, housing and works got the highest capital, almost eight times that of the health sector.

However, considering the election period, the potential for change remains.  

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