UNICEF representative in Nigeria Ms. Jim Bolken told federal legislators last week that five women die hourly at childbirth in the country. This sad news only confirmed what has been an abiding part of health care in the country. At present, a woman’s chance of dying at childbirth is 1 in 13.
With this revelation, it is clear that the country is not securely on track to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially reduction of infant mortality by two thirds and of maternal mortality by three quarters. According to the UNICEF country representative, most of these deaths are prevented in other countries, just as they are preventable in Nigeria.
All the problems that lead to maternal mortality: poor nutrition during pregnancy, hemorrhage, infection, obstructed or prolonged labour, hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, etc. are preventable through timely intervention. In the country, over 40 percent of women still do not have access to pre-natal medical care. Less than 20 percent of health facilities provide emergency obstetric care while only 35 percent of deliveries are attended by skilled birth-care professionals.
Ms. Bolken did not mince words when she told federal legislators that over 30,000 healthcare facilities in the country remain in comatose condition. She added that maternal mortality rate remains the most significant indicator of healthcare service and warned that unless the governments at all levels and health-related agencies nationwide provide adequate fund to the health sector, the 2020 MDGs stand the risk of not being realised.
The news about HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country is as alarming as the revelation about maternal mortality. At the marking of this year’s World AIDS Day, the country’s public health professionals and researchers revealed another shocker about HIV/AIDS in the country: 2.9 million Nigerians are still not on treatment for their infection. New HIV infections have increased in the country to 632 daily, with 174,253 dying from the disease in 2014. About three million of the 16 million currently living with HIV across the globe live in Nigeria. While 11 million in the WHO African Region are receiving treatment, only 500,000 in Nigeria have access to retroviral drugs. According to WHO Regional Director for Africa, “the number of people acquiring HIV infection is still too high and young women and girls continue to be disproportionately at risk.”
Just as with maternal mortality, so does Nigeria appear a disaster zone with respect to HIV/AIDS, not to talk of death of children under five. Preventable or treatable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea still account for more than 70 percent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in the country.
Paradoxically, there is no dearth of right rhetoric among government leaders about the centrality of good health to national development. There is no better illustration of good intention on the part of governments in respect of nurturing a healthy citizenry than the National Health Act of 2014. This Act contains all the right words about health care: achievement of Universal Health Coverage, government commitment to meet the MDGs target, improving funding of health care services at the grassroots, provision of basic health care to be funded from Federal Government Annual Grant with not less than one percent of its Consolidated Revenue Funds, etc.
But with the dismal statistics about health care in the country, it is obvious that what is missing on the part of government is not good intentions but effective implementation of good public health policies. Any country that treats its public health with levity stands the risk of continued underdevelopment. The wisdom that health is wealth does not apply in a country that is unable to prevent its mothers from dying of preventable complications and its infants from dying of treatable infections.
While it may be premature to blame the new Federal Government for the depressing statistics in the healthcare sector, it is proper to call on the government brought to power on the promise of change from business as usual to give urgent attention to a sector that looks ready for declaration of emergency. The lack of political will that turned Nigeria into the second country of funerals for infants and young mothers in the world has to come to an end under the new administration at all the three levels of government but with the right leadership that comes from the power of example by the Federal Government. This is the time to implement all the good policies in the books with regard to provision of universal health.
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