World Bank Expresses Concern Over Maternal Mortality Rates In Nigeria

A midwife listening for the heartbeat of a pregnant woman’s baby.

The World Bank Group has expressed deep concerns over Nigeria’s position as the global leader in maternal deaths during childbirth.

Senior health specialist at the World Bank Group, Dr. Olumide Okunola made this announcement during the National Closeout and Dissemination Meeting of the Evidence for Action – ‘MAMAYE Programme’ – a 12-year initiative aimed at improving maternal and newborn health in Nigeria.

The Evidence for Action Programme (E4A-Mamaye), managed by Options Consultancy Limited, began in 2012 with funding from FCDO (then DFID) and later received support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in 2015. The programme focused on enhancing maternal and newborn health by holding state actors accountable for delivering quality services.

Despite the commendable efforts of the Nigerian government to address the challenges in maternal and child health, Okunola pointed out that the country still faces significant hurdles, reflected in high rates of maternal mortality and neonatal deaths. He acknowledged the government’s initiatives, such as enhancing primary healthcare services, establishing comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care centres and implementing a referral transport system, as steps in the right direction.

“The government’s focus on enhancing primary healthcare services, establishing comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care centres and implementing a referral transport system signals a concerted effort to prioritise the well-being of mothers and newborns,” Okunola remarked.

He highlighted the introduction of the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF), a conditional grant that mandates states to allocate funds toward maternal and child health initiatives. Okunola sees this as a strategic move to ensure effective resource utilisation in addressing key health indicators and improving outcomes.

The federal government’s plan to make at least two public primary healthcare centres (PHCs) functional per ward and develop criteria for PHC functionality demonstrates a comprehensive approach to strengthening primary healthcare services at the grassroots level.

The engagement of community health workers as essential bridges between communities and healthcare facilities was also emphasised. This strategy aims to enhance access to maternal and child health services and generate demand for essential care, reducing mortality rates.

As these initiatives unfold, Okunola stressed the importance of monitoring progress, ensuring efficient resource allocation and engaging with stakeholders for sustainable improvements in maternal and child health outcomes.

During a panel session themed “Delivering UHC through Localization: Building Resilient Grassroot Coalition and Accountability Mechanisms for Stronger Health Systems in Nigeria and Africa,” stakeholders discussed the urgency of prioritising people, especially in challenging times. Director of DGI Consult Limited, Dr. Gafar Alawode highlighted the need for leadership to address these issues and underscored the importance of positioning the healthcare sector as a priority.

Lagos State Bureau of Statistics/co-chair (LASAM), Evidence sub-committee, Baruwa Basit noted a significant increase in budget allocation and release for maternal and child health initiatives in response to the governor’s directive during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Leveraging digital platforms and social media campaigns, Lagos state achieved widespread awareness and support for prioritising maternal and child health services.

Regional director of Options Consultancy Services, Dr. Ufuoma Omo Obi emphasised the significance of data-driven decision-making. He highlighted the importance of utilising maternal and infant death data to inform programming, citing initiatives like the maternal and perinatal death surveillance and response (MPDSR) that focus on investigating causes of deaths and implementing preventive measures.

Omo Obi stressed the pivotal role of communities in driving change, citing examples of community-driven transportation systems to address delays in accessing healthcare facilities. He urged sustained commitment from all stakeholders to ensure the sustainability of progress achieved as the E FOR A programme nears its conclusion.

Racheal Abujah
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