Ruth Akinwunmi-King’s drive to report on women’s and children’s issues in Nigeria came alive five years ago, when she experienced one of the major killers of pregnant women firsthand.
While pregnant with her second child, Ruth experienced a feeling of swelling over her entire body. Told it was just edema, a common complaint in many pregnancies, she was unconvinced. It turned out she was suffering from a far more serious condition, pre-eclampsia, and she almost lost her baby and her life owing to the misdiagnosis.
Ruth is a radio reporter in Lagos, Nigeria, happily married with three lovely children. She fell under journalism’s spell when at the age of eight she started tuning in to veteran broadcasters like television’s Ruth Benamaisia-Opia and Funke Durodola Treasure of Radio Nigeria.
In nine years in the field, she’s gained experience covering crime, the environment, health care, and women’s and children’s issues. Her special interest in under-reported stories affecting the less privileged in society led to special reports on issues affecting the environment and people around rural communities, especially women.
She’s traveled around Nigeria and abroad for reports focusing on improving living standards of women faced with hardship.
When it came to learning about how to manage pre-eclampsia, she used herself as a source. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that can lead to dangerously high blood pressure and other serious problems if left untreated. Fortunately, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, who will turn five this July.
Ruth’s all too close encounter with pre-eclampsia prompted her to study this condition, which is a major contributor to maternal and fetal mortality in Nigeria and across the developing world.
Pre-eclampsia, also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, is characterized by high blood pressure and swelling, usually occurring after 20 weeks of gestation. It can lead to life-threatening problems for both mother and child and if not treated can progress to full-blown eclampsia, a convulsive condition.
From 10 to 15 percent of maternal deaths worldwide are directly associated with pre-eclampsia and eclampsia – and 99 percent of those deaths are in the developing world.
Africa’s most populous country with nearly 190 million people, Nigeria records more maternal deaths than any country save India – about 150 every day. Yet many Nigerian women are unaware of the dangers of pre-eclampsia, especially in the north of the country where female education rates are lower. Many women simply lack access to adequate healthcare services. The government allocates only around 4 percent of the annual budget to health care, many times less than more developed economies.
Some women do not trust the country's healthcare service, as a result either of poor care or ignorance, leading to many maternal deaths at home.
In Ruth’s case, she took the time to read about pre-eclampsia, but it was the experience of undergoing an emergency C-section that brought home to her how carelessness on the part of health workers and low funding of the health sector are major drivers of maternal mortality in Nigeria.
“I know if my project is funded, it will help bring to the fore lapses in the maternal care system, as well as ways individuals and governments can stem maternal mortality,” Ruth says.