The perilous state of maternal health care in Nigeria

In Nigeria, women are still vulnerable to common and preventable causes of maternal morbidity and mortality due to low spending on health care and lack of access to antenatal care.

Pre-eclampsia, a condition that can cause dangerously high blood pressure, is among the most serious health issues affecting pregnant women in the developing world. I learned this myself during a pregnancy five years ago when a careless diagnosis failed to detect the early stages of pre-eclampsia. I went online to learn about the condition and later underwent an emergency C-section.

Ninety-nine out of 100 women who die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications are in the developing world. Pre-eclampsia – also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension – is a multisystem disorder that constitutes a major source of morbidity and mortality, especially in a country like Nigeria, which ranks second behind only India in the number of maternal deaths.

Tackling this problem requires action on many fronts. Complicating the situation in Nigeria, many women know nothing about pre-eclampsia. My investigation will begin by talking with women to ascertain their knowledge of the disorder. I will interview health workers and policymakers and map out data related to the condition.

WHO estimates the incidence of pre-eclampsia to be seven times higher in developing countries (2.8 percent of live births) than in developed countries (0.4 percent). In all, 10–15 percent of maternal deaths are directly associated with pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, a convulsive condition that can ensue if the mother is not given adequate care. Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy-related hypertensive disorder occurring usually after 20 weeks of gestation.

Pre-eclampsia may be life-threatening for both mother and child, increasing both fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality.

Maternal health experts recommend proper monitoring of pregnant women especially if they show signs of developing pre-eclampsia.

Charity groups do their best to help pregnant women, but too often advice and medication does not reach the women in need of it.

There is need for the Nigerian government to look inward and budget more for the health sector as this will go a long way toward reducing maternal and child mortality especially. The 2018 budget allocates just 3.9 percent of spending to the health sector – just over five dollars US per person for the year.

The health allocation represents a drop from the previous two years, and is far below the standard of 15 percent set by the African Union.

My five-minute radio and photo feature will highlight the need to enlighten the public on this serious condition, as the level of awareness is low. Better education is needed to teach women how to manage their pregnancies throughout the entire nine months.

I will attend antenatal classes in public and private hospitals to ascertain the knowledge pregnant women have about pre-eclampsia in Lagos State and in the northern part of Nigeria, where women’s education rates are lower.

I will interview health workers (doctors, nurses/midwives) and policymakers in the health sector in Nigeria. I will research and map out data on deaths related to pre-eclampsia in hospitals and other health facilities, such as traditional birth houses.

Approximately 800 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications around the world every day – at least 100 in Nigeria alone. I want to understand the reasons behind these alarming statistics, and what they mean for Nigerian women and children.

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