WHILE governments in sub-Saharan Africa continue to dole out money on military hardware, teargas canisters and baton sticks etc., pregnant women in the region are dying in droves due to lack of proper healthcare. Paradoxically, women and girls are the main caregivers for the sick in the absence of proper health systems. Yet when they need care the most during pregnancy it is not available, a scenario made worse by gender inequities that put the lives of women and girls at risk.
The statistics are downright shocking. In sub Saharan Africa, 1 in 16 women is likely to die as a consequence of pregnancy and childbirth, according to a recently published report titled “Measure of Commitment: Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Risk Index for Sub-Saharan Africa”.
For many women in the region, particularly in underserved remote and rural areas, getting pregnant is akin to a death sentence.
“Pregnancy is dangerous business in Sub Saharan Africa where a woman is 100 times more likely to die from pregnancy related complication than in a developed country,” states the report.
The number of African women who died from pregnancy and childbirth in 2008was much higher than the number of casualties from all the major conflicts in Africa combined, says the report.
Despite the gravity of the problem, many governments in the region pay little to no attention to it. There is very minimal investment by governments in services that can reduce maternal mortality. One way to explain it is that many governments in sub Saharan Africa are dominated by men who simply do not care about what is happening to women.
According to the report, few countries in sub Saharan Africa have budget lines for reproductive health and those that do invest less than one percent of the total sector budgets. To make matters worse, health systems in the region are in shambles and already overburdened by other diseases such as AIDS and TB.
“Health systems are plagued by severe staff shortages, dilapidated and rundown infrastructure, frequent stockouts of essential RH supplies including contraceptives, inefficiency and mismanagement and inadequate financing for reproductive health,” says the report issued by the Center for the Study of Adolescence Population Action International.
Instead most governments prefer to spend money on defense, terrorizing their citizenry, instead of improving the state of maternal health. It appears that there is simply appreciation of the importance of quality maternal care to building a strong-nation state.
Despite the fact that many of the countries in the region are signatories to agreements such as the International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD (the Cairo Agenda); and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) endorsed by the international community in 2000, the evidence on the ground clearly shows that there is a clear mismatch between policy priorities and financial commitment.
According to the report, few countries will meet MDG 5 and even fewer will meet regional targets such as the Abuja commitment of ensuring that the health budget makes up 15% of the GDP.
It is unacceptable that so many African women are dying die from complications that can often be effectively treated if only governments commitment more resources to health systems.
Reversing maternal mortality in Africa will take a rethink on the part of African governments, civil society and international donors. Expanding health in the rural areas and training health care workers is a critical part of the equation. But most importantly, it will take individuals, like you and me, to speak out about this issue wherever and whenever we can. It is time to raise our voices to the cause of Africa’s pregnant women.