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Monday, 22 October 2012


Africa is largely a traditional society. Africans have succeeded in retaining some of the original cultural values like respect for the sacredness of life.

Historically, Africa came under domination of some foreign forces from the West who originally invaded Africa in search of economic prosperity for their home territories.

Political historians have recorded that the various interface that Africa has had with the then invading foreign forces were in two parts namely cultural and political.

It is a historical fact that when the foreign invaders besieged Africa nearly two centuries ago, the political forces from the West were accompanied by their spiritual leaders who brought their foreign religions into Africa.

As a result of the aggressive religious teachings, most traditional Africans embraced these foreign religious belief systems but nevertheless retained some aspects of their original African value system. One of the original African cultural value systems retained by Africans is the African symbolism attached to the arrival of ‘new born’ seen as the arrival of new life.

Nigeria being the largest African country worldwide is renowned for this beautiful cultural value attached to new born but because of dearth of standard health facilities caused by political corruption and economic crime perpetrated by the political elite, a lot of children have died during child births even as infant mortality has become the most troubling health challenge that confronts twenty first century Nigeria.

Sadly, successive political administrations since independence in 1960 have paid only lip service to the critical issue of tackling the unprecedented rate of infant mortality in the country and this reality has made Nigeria a laughing stock in the international community as a nation that is richly endowed with mineral resources such as crude oil and solid minerals but also as the nation with some of the worst cases of high infant mortality annually.

Nigeria’s current President Good luck Jonathan, who was a former lecturer in a tertiary institution, has told Nigerians of his passion to stop this dangerous trend.

President Jonathan was once recently quoted in the media as saying that his resolve to stop the high rate of infant mortality was because of what he witnessed in his biological family where a lot of infant mortality cases were recorded.

He vowed to institute what I may call the ‘Jonathan’s new born Medicare revolution’ aimed at delivering quality pre and post-natal Medicare to pregnant ladies and their new born.

The United Nations Secretary General Mr. Banki Moon has provided institutional support to President Jonathan’s lofty health ambition to bring succor and good Medicare to Nigeria’s new born.

The United Nations has subsequently appointed the Nigeria’s President as co-chairman of the United Nations Commission on life saving commodities for women and children along with the prime minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg. This appointment is seen in human rights circle as the necessary tonic for Nigeria to overcome these dangerous threats to life confronting pregnant women and our unborn children.

In a recent article published in major Nigerian newspapers titled “saving the lives of women and children” both President Jonathan and Prime Minister Stoltenberg made profound commitment to see to the reduction of the high rate of infant mortality.

These great people, one from Nigeria (Africa) and the other from Norway (Europe) have through this well written newspaper article provided germane reason why infant mortality has remained a dominant health challenge even in this twenty first century that has seen several health related innovations and inventions by scientists.                    

They jointly argued thus; “The overarching health system and financial impediments for governments and end-users to access life-saving commodities is made worse by the lack of awareness of how, why and when to use them, preventing women and children from accessing and using appropriate commodities”.

They also submitted thus: “Other system barriers to these commodities include the severely under-resourced regulatory agencies in low-income countries, which lead to delayed registration of commodities, lack of oversight of product quality and general inefficiencies; market failures, where return on investment is too low to encourage manufacturers to enter the market or produce sufficient quantities; and user supply and demand challenges such as limited demand for the product by end-users, local delivery problems and incorrect prescription and use”.

One clear fact is that President Jonathan needs to work like a “lion” with the needed creative zeal to be able to minimize the unprecedented high rate of infant mortality in Nigeria.

Statistically, Nigeria is ranked as one place in the World whereby infants and new born are endangered species requiring special, urgent, comprehensive, effective, transparent and result-based measures to overcome rapidly to save our new born from pre-mature deaths.  

From we learnt that the health statistics published by all respected and highly respected health authorities in the World have returned unpleasant report on the high rate of infant mortality in Nigeria.

In April 2010, The Lancet published a worldwide study on maternal mortality conducted by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at Washington University. For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth. From total maternal deaths of roughly 525,000 in 1980 to about 342,900 in 2008, the IHME analyses utilizes new and better country data and a more sophisticated statistical method that draws from birth records, national surveys census and surveys of siblings deaths.

The new findings from 181 countries also show an annual decrease of 1.3% in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR), the ratio of number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. However, Nigeria moved in the opposite direction of this global trend, with a 1.4% increase each year, from 473/100,000 in 1990 to 608/100,000 by 2008. For every woman who dies, twenty will face serious or long-last medical problems.

The report further indicated that 99 percent of women who survive severe, life-threatening complications often require lengthy recovery times and may face long-term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences. The chronic ill health of a mother puts at risk surviving children, who depend on their mothers for food, care and emotional support.

The report has it that reducing maternal mortality is one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goal 5 (Improving Maternal Health). It is the Millennium Development Goal that has shown the least progress since 2000 and the one that reveals the greatest disparity between rich and poor.

But what are the causes of high infant mortality?

As stated by the WHO in its 2005 World Health Report “Make Every Mother and Child Count”, the major causes of maternal deaths are: severe bleeding/hemorrhage (25%), infections (13%), unsafe abortions (13%), eclampsia (12%), obstructed labour (8%), other direct causes (8%), and indirect causes (20%). Indirect causes are things such as malaria, anaemia, HIV/AIDS, and cardiovascular disease, all of which complicate pregnancy or are aggravated by it.

Forty-five percent of postpartum deaths occur within 24 hours over 90% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. In comparison, pregnancy associated homicide accounts for 2 to 10 deaths per 100,000 live births, possibly substantially higher due to underreporting.

Unintended pregnancy is a major cause of maternal deaths, so says World Health Organization. Worldwide, unintended pregnancy resulted in almost 700,000 maternal deaths from 1995 to 2000 (approximately one-fifth of the maternal deaths during that period). The majority (64%) resulted from complications from unsafe or unsanitary abortion.

As can be seen from the scientific facts produced by health experts, President Jonathan should note that his “pro-new born health revolution” will require profound political will and the necessary resources to achieve. In doing this, the current government must put politics aside and render quality health care for the benefit of our new born and pregnant women.


*    Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria          

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