Maternal, child health deteriorating in Africa

Harare- Mozambique (PANA) -- An African expert on reproductive health has painted a grim picture of maternal and child health in the Region and warned that the situation could worsen in the next decade if no immediate remedial actions were taken by Africa's governments and development partners.
   "If nothing is done to arrest the trend (of high and growing maternal and child deaths), it is estimated that there will be 2.
5 million maternal deaths, 2.
5 million child deaths and 49 million maternal disabilities in the Region over the next 10 years," the expert, Joseph Kasonde told a regional meeting in Harare, on reducing maternal and child deaths.
The three-day meeting, which opened in the Zimbabwean capital Monday is organised by the World Health Organisation, Africa Regional Office (WHO-AFRO).
According to Kasonde, "The problem is more than one of mortality.
For every woman that dies, there are at least 20 to 30 who suffer long term disabilities.
"  He noted that more than half of the 600,000 women who die every year from pregnancy-related causes were in the African Region, which constitutes only 12 percent of the world's population and 17 percent of its births.
   According to WHO, maternal mortality ratio in Africa remains the highest in the world with the average increasing from 870 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 1,000 per 100,000 live births in 2001.
  Kadonde said: "Pregnancy in adolescence presents a unique and frightening picture," adding that 13 percent of all maternal deaths occurred in adolescents, 14 million of whom gave birth annually worldwide.
Attributing the high fertility in Africa partly to early childbirth, he said in spite of the sombre picture, two major initiatives launched in the past two decades had helped to stem the tide of maternal and child deaths in Africa.
  These include the Safe Motherhood Initiative launched in 1987 which drew attention to the multifaceted nature of the problem and the need to invest in five key critical areas - human rights, empowerment of women, education, socio-economic development and the improvement of health systems.
   "The Making Pregnancy Safer Initiative, launched in 2000, focused on the health sector and its crucial role in accelerating maternal mortality reduction.
The aim of the Initiative was to ensure that women and their newborns have access to the care they need through the strengthening of health systems and appropriate community-level actions,"  he added.
Kasonde, however, noted that in spite of the harsh economic environment prevailing in Africa, the application of appropriate policies by governments would lead to improvements in the outcome of pregnancies irrespective of the economic status of countries.
  According to him, African governments should focus on the availability of and accessibility to emergency obstetric care because emergencies constituted a major risk for maternal mortality on the continent.
Other essential interventions, he said, were the reorganisation of health systems, the strengthening of midwifery skills, and increasing the number of skilled birth attendants.
   Kasonde suggested a four-pronged action plan - to place maternal and newborn health high on the agenda of governments and partners, review of policies, guidelines and programmes, allocation and release of resources and action to harness resources from communities and partners.

17 february 2004 15:58:00

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