By: Lizi Jones
Nigeria is stricken with the highest maternal death rate in Africa, and the second highest in the world. While the nation contains approximately two percent of the world’s population, it accounts for a staggering 14 percent of maternal deaths around the globe. Nigeria and its mothers are in need of drastic changes in the health care system.
This change is coming in the form of Nigeria’s brand new Saving One Million Lives by 2015 campaign, which was officially launched last Tuesday in Abuja, Nigeria. The project developed as an offshoot of the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children initiative launched in March of this year, which was itself spun out of joint efforts between the UN and its Every Woman, Every Child campaign to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015, and continue working towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals.
Lucky Number Thirteen
The Commission is led by Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, and supported by UNICEF and UNFPA, as well as the Clinton Health Access Initiative. The scope of the project spans “13 essential, overlooked commodities in four categories (reproductive health, maternal health, newborn health, and child health),” and the project’s primary goal is to improve access to these commodities. The Commission’s website explains how access is currently restricted by a long list of setbacks:
“Some of the common barriers to access include the lack of affordable products, lack of formulations safe for children, weak supply chains, inadequate regulatory capacity at country level to protect people from sub-standard or counterfeit products that can cause harm, and lack of awareness how, why and when to use these commodities.”
Tools to Save Lives
The Commission plans to improve access along these lines to overlooked commodities that range across the four categories of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and children’s health. These life-saving tools include devices and medications alike, from female condoms and emergency contraception for family planning, to magnesium sulfate for eclampsia and oxytocin for post-partum hemorrhage; from injectable antibiotics for newborn sepsis and chlorhexidine for newborn cord care, to zinc for diarrhea and amoxicillin for pneumonia in children.
Nigeria will now set the stage as one of the nations most enthusiastically undertaking the challenge of improving access to these commodities in the next three to four years. With the maternal mortality rate at such staggering highs, the nation stands poised to make vast improvements in its efforts to ‘save one million lives’ by 2015 by, “equitabl[y] increasing access to and utilisation [sic] of quality cost-effective basic health services and through commodities,” as announced Monday by Dr. Muhammad Pate, Minister of State for Health. Secretary General of Norway Angel Hanson explained how Norway’s partnership contributes not only funds to the Nigeria initiative, but also considerable experience in “mobilisation [sic] of human resources and putting them to good use.” Norway’s economic system and European standing have undergone impressive transformations in relatively recent history—and with it an inevitable improvement in healthcare—which sets the Scandinavian nation up to play an important role in supporting this ambitious new life-saving initiative.
Nigeria is doing a remarkable job of shifting the focus of its public health projects to maternal- and child-related concerns. This Saving Lives project is an enormous step, and an admirable one to take on the world stage. We hope Nigeria’s efforts, with the help of Norway and the rest of the UN, will serve as inspiration to other similarly stricken nations around the world. Making maternal health a top priority is the key to improving mortality rates of women and children around the globe.
Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2010
UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children, Commissioner’s Report
Clinton Foundation Press release
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