Even as reproductive condition is vastly improving for women in Western countries, the recently concluded International Conference on Maternal Health (Washington, USA, June 9, 2010) confirms in its distress communiqué to G8/G20 governments that both maternal and child mortality rates in West Africa are on the rise and among the highest in the world roughly 225 women and 1200 children die every day from complications in childbirth. Scientific studies on Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Nigeria show hemorrhage (30 percent), Sepsis (18 percent), Eclampsia (13 percent), and Abortion (10 percent) are dominant causes (85 percent) of all childbirth deaths.
Keeping this in perspective, the World Health Organization (WHO) says access to basic obstetrical resuscitation units is central to eliminating this public health problem; and in this regard success requires multidisciplinary approaches to prevention and management of cases. Health policy initiatives at the global level and advocacy efforts must also compliment community based support systems designed specifically to eliminate infra-structural obstacles to delivering quality maternal services, such as limited access to healthcare due to high costs, lack of trained staff and midwifery services, inadequate basic medical supplies, poor transportation, and insufficient information about nutrition and general wellness.
Persistent cultural norms are also slowing progress. For instance, girls in most Francophone countries forced into early childbearing at age 10-15 frequently suffer premature delivery, with death rates of 1000 per 100, 000 births. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) wants this primitive tradition abolished, because it violates international human rights standards and induces untold psychological and physical traumas, which victims can perhaps contain if empowered to delay their first birth through the use of contraceptives. Indeed, family planning can minimize abortion related fatalities in countries where the pill is outlawed and unprepared pregnancies are handled with deadly consequences by quack doctors.
Maternal mortality needs to be tackled at all its multiple levels and several pilot programs and legal enforcement mechanisms are already in place for that purpose: The West African Health Organization (WAHO), the health appendage of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), is harmonizing policies among Health Ministries across the region and ensuring transfer of appropriate technical support for capacity building among professionals in healthcare.
Among scores of regionally based organizations in the sector, the Action for West Africa in Reproductive Health (AWARE-RH) is constructing integrated models for managing childhood illness and leveraging external donor sources toward managing obstetric complications. Despite scarce resources, a number of governments (The Gambia and Benin) are testing promising interventions to ensure women’s reproductive health requirements are integrated well into national development planning. Caring for the health of mothers strengthens the foundation of constituent communities and yields political dividends fo societyr leaders and public officials.