When it comes to achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 – reducing maternal mortality ratio by 75 percent and granting universal access to reproductive health by 2015 – Nigeria is fighting an uphill battle. Here are some quick facts to illustrate just how staggering maternal healthcare (or lack thereof) is in Nigeria:
- Nigeria is currently ranked among the top ten most dangerous countries for a woman to give birth, placed alongside Afghanistan, Haiti, Liberia and Sudan.
- In 2010, approximately 40,000 women passed away giving birth and another 1 to 1.6 million suffered serious disabilities related to their pregnancy and/or childbirth.
- Data from The World Health Organization suggests that 630 of every 100,000 childbirths result in a maternal death.
- Nigerian women face a 1 in 29 chance of dying from childbirth whereas the average risk throughout Sub-Saharan Africa is 1 in 39. (The risk in developed countries is as low as 1 in 3,800.)
To clarify: 14 percent of all maternal deaths in the world occur in Nigeria.
However, not all hope is lost. Abiye and Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development are two programs currently working to decrease maternal mortality in Nigeria.
The Abiye program, meaning “Safe Motherhood” in the Yoruba language, was launched in 2009 by Nigeria’s Ondo State government and has already seen major progress in diminishing maternal deaths in the region. The success of Abiye is often attributed to Governor Olusegun Mimiko, the Ondo State health commissioner and brains behind the program. The program began with extensive surveys at the community level, allowing programmers to gain a better understanding of why Nigeria suffered from such a high maternal mortality rate. Investigators discovered four major “delays” contributed to maternal deaths that inevitably became the backbone of the program:
1) The delay in deciding to seek care (due to education, mistrust of health facilities, or family constraints);
2) The delay in reaching care (due to distance, infrastructure, or communication);
3) The delay in receiving appropriate care upon arrival (due to inadequate manpower, supplies, drugs, or health infrastructure);
4) The delay in referral (when complications beyond local facility capacities arise).
The Abiye program works to eliminate problems surrounding these delays through various means and has, so far, experienced dramatic improvement in maternal health. Before implementation, health facilities in the Ondo State delivered approximately 100 children annually. Within one year, healthcare facilities completed more than 2,000 deliveries and after two years that number rose to more than 6,000. A 2013 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies highlights the Abiye program as a major success and encourages others to seek similar innovative approaches towards improving maternal health.
The next question you might be asking is: How can I help? This is where Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development comes into play. The program – affiliated with major international development players including USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID, Grand Challenges Canada, the World Bank, and the Government of Norway – challenges others to find innovative tools, ideas and/or approaches for the prevention and treatment of pregnant women and newborns in poor, hard-to-reach communities. The program aims to foster a community of learning and innovation in order to:
1) Support the development and health outcomes for pregnant women and their babies in low-resource settings;
2) Develop, refine, and test the impact of solutions that have previously measured promising health outcomes in a limited setting and have the potential for scale-up.
Saving Lives at Birth’s unique approach could only be successfully implemented in today’s interconnected world of Facebook and Twitter. By using social media to its advantage, thousands of potential solutions are submitted and evaluated, thereby increasing the possibility that a solution to Nigeria’s maternal mortality epidemic is within our grasp.