Wednesday 25 February 2009

Nigeria: The embarrassment of maternal mortality

Mother and child can be safe

Despite the opprobrium that it attracts and in some cases justly so, the subtext to the story the woman who with the help of induced conception gave birth to octuplets [1] is that they are all alive as she also is well and alive to take care of her babies.

Just over 10 years ago, a couple also through assisted fertilisation became parents of a set of live octuplets [2], one of whom died within a week of birth. This couple becoming the first of such an event in America were of Nigerian ancestry and received the best of medical attention that the 7 are healthy vibrant normal children today.

Their mother a few years later conceived naturally to give birth to a girl which brings the number back up to 8 blessings of joy – they have only recently been garnering public attention with the birth of the other octuplets.

Care is of the utmost importance

At my birthday just over 2 months ago, I asked my father [3] about when I was born and if anything, what I heard the most was his gratitude to a medical system 43 years ago that gave a 26-week premature baby the opportunity to thrive and become what I am today.

Last weekend, in Sagamu where I went to secondary school [4] and in a hospital where some 30 years ago, my terror of injections was so shamelessly viewed by many, a lady gave birth to a set of sextuplets [5].

Probably no mean feat and amazing in every case, the sextuplets did survive but a few days afterwards tragedy struck with the death of the mother.

This highlights a very serious health emergency in Nigeria where the country counts for 10% of global maternal mortality [6] deaths linked to child birth – Nigeria ranks second only to India which has about 7 times the population of Nigeria.

Lackadaisical attention to health

I have not been convinced of our government's handling that emergency and embarrassment with any sense of responsibility or urgency; giving that after a fraudulent scandal in the health ministry [7] last year, it took the best part of a year to fill the post of minister and minister of state with competent personnel holding the substantive portfolio.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers bungled [8] their first attempt at a health bill which had a committee of probably the most qualified health professionals sitting and debating.

I have written a lot about health and healthcare in Nigeria and it can only be that those who can afford it get shipped out of the country at any feeling of discomfort whilst the masses self-medicate with unproven but mythically effective herbs and natural remedies until they are beyond orthodox, traditional or spiritual help and consequently die of that pathogenic brief illness.

It should not escape the notice of the reader that the hospital that delivered the sextuplets had been upgraded to a university teaching hospital where presumably one would expect to find the best medical hands and brains but the subtext reads that two of the babies were transferred to the intensive care unit of a private hospital in Lagos some 40 kilometres away where their condition has improved.

It is an emergency

Whilst I can only commend the efficacy of the transport and stabilisation systems that allowed the babies to be delicately transferred to another hospital, the damning reality is how a seeming centre of medical excellence could not provide in totality the care for the babies having inadvertently lost the mother through excessive bleeding.

A few years ago it was another teaching hospital where fake anaesthetic drugs were administered to hapless victim patients and a minister of health [9] who could not be bothered by the health emergency this signified.

Can we get better people?

Then we have a minister of women affairs [10], I say this without prejudice and with no condemnation of what is generally acceptable, whose amazing profile [11] includes the main and only hobby of reading the Quran – with what that all entails about the rights of women, the child and its attendant health issues.

The CEDAW protocol [12] languishes in our legislature whilst they promulgate laws about indecent dressing as another unfortunate woman succumbs into another grievous and heinous statistic of utter irresponsibility on the part of our leadership.

This whole matter of the sextuplets must not end with the mercy missions of charity for the upkeep and survival of the children but it should go to the root of the problem which is the extraordinarily unacceptable number of women needlessly dying at childbirth – this is the critical health emergency that Nigeria faces today and it needs addressing urgently.


[1] American woman gives birth to live octuplets - Times Online

[2] Chukwu octuplets - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] Four before three, I am 43 today! []

[4] Remo Secondary School (RSS) at 60 []

[5] BBC NEWS | Africa | Nigerian sextuplets' mother dies

[6] HEALTH-NIGERIA: Little Progress on Maternal Mortality

[7] Nigeria: The resignation of Adenike Grange []

[8] Nigeria: The Senate Health Bill is rejected []

[9] Unhealthy directors of Nigerian Health []

[10] Ministry of Women Affairs

[11] Profile of Minister Saudatu Usman Bungudu [PDF]

[12] Nigeria: Women badly represented at CEDAW convention []

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