By Isaac Oriafo Ejakhegbe
“Maternal health and wellbeing must remain a central goal, an investment priority in the sustainable development to ensure that progress continues and accelerates. Also, indigenous government must see that they play their part to agreed health policies for which we pledge commitment.”— Gynecologist in Benin City, Nigeria
The year 2015, which once seemed far off, has now passed.
With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted and the 2015 Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference and 2016 Women Deliver Conference behind us, the time is now to mobilize global and country-level commitment for ending preventable maternal mortality, including commitments to newborn, sexual and reproductive health.
Worldwide, the greatest disparities among human development indicators are in maternal mortality rates between high-income and low- and middle-income countries. The highest maternal mortality levels are found in Africa and Asia. In fact, in India, a woman dies of childbirth every 8 minutes, and Nigeria loses 145 women of childbearing age every single day.
Across many countries there have been short- and long-term policies to achieve tangible reductions of maternal deaths.
There is, of course, nothing wrong in expressing short- or medium-term health policy goals, or even far-reaching objectives to be achieved over a slated period of time. There is, however, in retrospect, a clear historic trend over nearly two decades that, despite progress, long-term maternal health policies have not fully attained success in the sub regions of many countries, leaving deep inequity not only between, but also within countries.
Stakeholders and country-level government should act early and sustain the zeal for maternal, newborn and reproductive health and rights ignited by the SDGs, since quality health care that reaches women on time could avert most of these deaths.
In 1977, “Health for all by the year 2000” was the well-known slogan at the estimable initiative of Alma Ata. Nearly 20 years later at the famous International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt, delegates from 179 countries agreed that every country must reduce maternal mortality by half by the year 2000.
Despite these well-intentioned, yet lofty goals, the turn of the century passed with the beating hearts of childbearing women continuing to reach an idle stop every day. Millennium Development Goal 5 added upon Alma Ata and ICPD and enhanced the focus on efforts to decrease maternal mortality, with an even loftier goal to decrease 1990 maternal mortality ratios by three quarters by 2015.
Much of the progress that contributed to a 45% decrease in maternal mortality from 1990 to 2013 was the result of accelerated gain since 2000 and yet many of the countries in Africa and Asia were not able to achieve the benchmark target by the slated year 2015.
The dawn of the SDGs is a new era.
While the targets for maternal and newborn health are laudable, and could be achieved across the globe over the next 15 years, it is critical that local and national governments in developing nations act vigorously and sustain commitment to budget allocation and program implementation for quality maternal health care services within a global framework.
Isaac Oriafo Ejakhegbe is a Women Deliver Young Leader from Nigeria. He works in the nonprofit sector, with a focus on health promotion, maternal and child health, gender equality and climate change. Among others, he is passionate about civil engagement and health reporting of the SDGs and has written works in HIV, child labour, girls education, and climate change. He can be reached via email and Twitter.