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The surge of teenage pregnancy in Delta State is worrying.

Towards Boosting Maternal and Child Health in Nigeria By Aishat M. Abisola

Maternal and child health are critical indicators of a nation’s well-being, as they reflect the government’s commitment to the welfare of its citizens. High maternal mortality rates, inadequate prenatal care, and persistently high rates of child mortality are serious issues that need urgent attention.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has been grappling with significant challenges in ensuring the well-being of mothers and children. One of the most pressing concerns in Nigeria is high maternal mortality rates.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate was estimated at 917 per 100,000 live births in 2017, and it increased by nearly 14% in 2020 to reach 1047 deaths. This places Nigeria among the countries with the highest global maternal mortality rates.

Factors that have contributed to this grim reality include limited access to quality healthcare services, especially in rural areas, where a significant portion of the population resides.

Inadequate prenatal care has also been aggravating the challenges faced by expectant mothers in Nigeria. Many women lack access to essential prenatal services which leads to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Again, late initiation of antenatal care, coupled with a shortage of skilled healthcare professionals, contributes to preventable maternal deaths. Insufficient resources, infrastructure, and education on the importance of early and regular prenatal check-ups further compound the problem.

It is apt to assert that maternal and child health are intricately linked, and the challenges faced by mothers will also directly affect the well-being of their children. High maternal mortality rates contribute to increased rates of infant mortality.

Children who are born to mothers who have faced complications during pregnancy or childbirth are more vulnerable to health issues and developmental delays. Adequate maternal care is essential for ensuring a healthy start in life for infants and reducing the risk of long-term health challenges.

Another key contributor to maternal and child health challenges in Nigeria is inadequate access to healthcare services. Rural areas, where a significant portion of the population resides, often lack the proper healthcare infrastructure.

Limited healthcare facilities, a shortage of skilled healthcare professionals, and inadequate transportation make it difficult for pregnant women to access timely and quality medical care. Addressing this issue will require significant investments in healthcare infrastructure as well as efforts to improve healthcare delivery in remote areas.

In the same vein, cultural practices and beliefs also play a large role in shaping maternal and child health outcomes in Nigeria. Traditional beliefs can hinder women from seeking timely medical care during pregnancy as they rely on traditional birth attendants or home deliveries.

Cultural norms around family planning and fertility may contribute to high-risk pregnancies and larger family sizes, further straining maternal health. Addressing these cultural barriers requires sensitization campaigns that promote the importance of modern healthcare practices while respecting cultural diversity.

Let me also add that education plays a crucial role in addressing maternal and child health challenges in Nigeria. Lack of education, particularly among women, contributes to poor health-seeking behaviours, late initiation of prenatal care, and a limited understanding of family planning.

Investing in education, especially for girls and women, will empower them to make informed decisions about their health, family planning, and the well-being of their children. This can also help in reducing child mortality rates by fostering an awareness of essential health practices.

It is imperative that Nigeria needs to implement a comprehensive and integrated approach to tackle the persistent challenges plaguing maternal and child health. Government agencies, healthcare professionals, non-governmental organizations, and local communities must collaborate to execute effective policy interventions.

These interventions should include:

Improved Healthcare Infrastructure: Investment in healthcare infrastructure, especially in rural areas, is crucial. Building more healthcare facilities, ensuring that there is a sufficient number of skilled healthcare professionals, and providing adequate resources can enhance accessibility to maternal and child health services.

Community Engagement: Engaging with local communities is essential for changing health-seeking behaviours. Community leaders, traditional birth attendants, and religious leaders can play a pivotal role in raising awareness about the importance of prenatal care and safe delivery practices.

Education Programs: Implementing educational programs that focus on maternal and child health, family planning, and hygiene is vital. These programs should be tailored towards the specific needs and cultural contexts of different communities and encourage informed decision-making.

Government Commitment: Government commitment to allocating resources and implementing policies that prioritize maternal and child health is paramount. This includes ensuring that healthcare services are accessible, affordable, and of high quality across the country.

Last line

Maternal and child health in Nigeria faces multifaceted challenges that demand a comprehensive and collaborative approach. To address the high maternal and child mortality rates, efforts should be focused on improving healthcare access, overcoming cultural barriers, and promoting education.

Sustainable solutions require the active involvement of government agencies, healthcare professionals, NGOs, and local communities. By addressing these challenges head-on, Nigeria can pave the way for a healthier future, ensuring the well-being of mothers and children across the nation.

Aishat M. Abisola is NYSC member serving with PRNigeria Centre Abuja.