African leaders to mobilise internal resources to reduce maternal/infant mortality

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) - African countries need to mobilise enough domestic resources and speed up their efforts to reduce the current levels of maternal and infant mortality on the continent, according to heads of state and government gathered here for the 20th ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU).

Speaking at a high-level event organised by the outgoing AU Chairperson, Benin President Boni Yayi on the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), the African leaders expressed that it was unacceptable for Africa to be on record as having the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world.

"High rates of maternal and infant mortality in Africa are a phenomenon of backwardness and underdevelopment," said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

"No one can assume that Africa will remain backward economically and socially," Museveni asserted, explaining that in the case of Uganda, the government was tackling the problem of maternal deaths by taking health services nearer to local communities, at least within a radius of six kilometres.

Another approach, Museveni suggested, should be sensitisation. "This is very crucial to educate expectant mothers to attend ante-natal clinics in order to ensure safe delivery. But, in addition, economic development should be the base of improved health delivery systems as we strive to become middle-income economies."

Currently, the life time risk of an African woman dying from pregnancy-related complications is one in 39, which compares unfavourably with one in 4,700 in the industrialised world, according to trends in maternal mortality compiled by UN agencies between 1990 and 2010.

Within that period, Africa reduced maternal mortality by 41 percent and under-five mortality by 33 percent. The reduction in under-five deaths would have been greater but for the rates of death among the newborn which have not declined at the same rate.

"We must prioritise maternal and child health in our development programmes. We must ensure our girls stay in school so that they are not married off at an early age," said President Joyce Banda of Malawi.

She stressed that CARMMA should not be seen as another advocacy and "reduction of maternal deaths in Africa must be our business."

Admitting that South Africa was one of the last countries to launch the CARMMA strategy, President Jacob Zuma said his country was now set to use every opportunity to achieve the goals set in the African strategy.

"South Africa is committed to doing everything we can to decrease maternal and child mortality and to improve the lives of women and children, both in our country and on the continent," he said.

"We have developed a national dashboard to monitor progress in the implementation of CARMMA and, together with development partners, we have supported provinces to strengthen their plans to achieve the goals of CARMMA," Zuma explained.

South Africa's key interventions include strengthening family planning to reduce unwanted pregnancies, particularly teenage pregnancies which contribute 36 percent of maternal deaths though they constitute 8 percent of the total number of pregnancies.

Zuma said that other interventions were the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, strengthening maternity services, training of doctors and nurses who work in maternity units, training of advanced midwives and steps to reduce malnutrition.

"Despite progress in dealing with HIV since 2009, HIV still contributes about 40 percent of maternal and child deaths in South Africa. Unless we deal decisively with HIV, we will not be able to reduce maternal and child mortality to any significant extent," Zuma said, adding that every South African has been asked to test for HIV at least once a year.

The high-level event on CARMMA sought to advocate for sustained political commitment, financial support and reinforced implementation of maternal, newborn and child health interventions.

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin told the presidents that the UN body would make sure it accelerates the programme to reduce maternal mortality in Africa.
-0- PANA AR/VAO 27Jan2013

27 january 2013 14:42:09

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