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WHO alerts on setbacks in Africa’s advances in maternal, infant mortality

By Chukwuma Muanya
02 December 2022   |   5:34 am
World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised the alarm over setbacks in advances made by the African region in maternal and infant mortality. A new report released, yesterday, at a virtual press conference by WHO African Region...

[File] Infant mortality

• 390 women, 72 newborns per 100,000 live births will die by 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa
• Continent has 1.55 health workers per 1,000 people, below WHO threshold density of 4.45

World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised the alarm over setbacks in advances made by the African region in maternal and infant mortality. A new report released, yesterday, at a virtual press conference by WHO African Region, titled, ‘The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022’, finds slowdown in progress made during the past decade against maternal and infant mortality.

The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022 assessed the nine targets related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on health and found that at the current pace, increased investment is needed to accelerate progress towards the targets. Among the most difficult to achieve will be reducing maternal mortality.

Principal Research Officer, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Dr. Benjamin Tsofa, joined Senior Technical Officer, Health Systems Development, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Humphrey Karamagi, at the press conference.

Also on hand from WHO Regional Office for Africa to answer questions were Team Lead, Emergency Operations, Dr. Fiona Braka; Medical Officer, Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Treatment and Care, Dr. Fank Lule; and Strategic Health Information Officer, Dr. Serge Bataliack.

According to the Atlas 2022 reports, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that 390 women will die in childbirth for every 100,000 live births by 2030. This is more than five times above the 2030 SDGs target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and much higher than the average of 13 deaths per 100,000 live births witnessed in Europe in 2017. It is more than the global average of 211. To reach the SDG target, Africa will need an 86 per cent reduction from 2017 rates (the last time data was reported), an unrealistic feat at the current rate of decline.

The report noted that the region’s infant mortality rate stands at 72 per 1,000 live births. At the current 3.1 per cent yearly rate of decline, there will be an expected 54 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030, far above the reduction target of fewer than 25 per 1,000.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said: “Africa has scored some of the fastest reduction rates globally in key health objectives, but the momentum is waning. This means that for many African women, childbirth remains a persistent risk and millions of children do not live long enough to celebrate their fifth birthday.

“It is crucial that governments make a radical course-correction, surmount the challenges and speed up the pace towards the health goals. These goals aren’t mere milestones, but the very foundations of healthier life and well-being for millions of people.”

According to the report, although the region is witnessing a decelerating momentum towards key health objectives, such as vaccine coverage, it has made remarkable progress in some areas during the first decade of the 21st century. Under-five mortality fell by 35 per cent; neonatal death rates dropped by 21 per cent; and maternal mortality declined by 28 per cent.

In the last decade, advances in all three targets have flatlined, particularly for maternal mortality. It noted that while Africa has advanced on family planning, with 56.3 per cent of women of reproductive age (15-49) having their family planning needs satisfied with modern contraceptive methods in 2020, the region is still far below the global average of 77 per cent, and the worst performing.

The WHO report noted that the slowdown has been exacerbated by the disruptive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Crucial health services, such as postnatal care for women and newborns, neonatal intensive care units, and antenatal care services, immunisation services were disrupted during the pandemic. Since 2021, Africa has also faced resurgence in vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. Measles cases rose by 400 per cent between January and March 2022 compared with the same period the year before,” it noted.

According to the report, inadequate investment in health and funding for health programmes are some of the major drawbacks to meeting the SDGs on health. For example, a 2022 WHO survey of 47 African countries found that the region has a ratio of 1.55 health workers (physicians, nurses and midwives) per 1,000 people, below the WHO threshold density of 4.45 health workers per 1,000 people needed to deliver essential health services and achieve universal health coverage.