WITH a weak national health system that has limited functional health facilities and infrastructure, shortage and unequal distribution of human resources for health among others, Nigeria currently suffers maternal death rate of 576 for every 100,000 live births.
As a result of this high number of deaths of women in pregnancy, the country contributes to the worst countries where it is unsafe to have a baby as fourteen of every hundred women are likely to die giving birth.
Similarly, the indices for women and girls who suffer incidence of sexual and physical violence is on the rise with not less than twenty eight of every one hundred women and girls in Nigeria reporting one form of abuse.
Three out of every ten Nigerian girls are also known to have experienced genital mutilation or cut with three girls out of every other ten given out in early marriage in some parts of the country as well.
Unsafe abortion is rampart in the face of criminalisation of abortion by the Nigerian Constitution; yet women and girls remain disadvantaged in possessing skills and power to negotiate safe sex as access to contraceptives is equally low.
With all these unfavourable facts and much more, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in celebrating the 2017 International Women’s Day in Nigeria decided to address “the tragedy of our time” by appointing and decorating a notable screen diva and icon Stephanie Linus as Regional Ambassador for Maternal Health, West and Central Africa, urging her to ‘Be Bold for Change’.
Reeling the magnitude of pains and tragedies going on in these two sub regions of Africa shortly before the unveiling of Stephanie, UNFPA deputy Resident Representative, Dr Eugene Kongnyuy described the maternal mortality ratio as “one of the highest in the world”.
According to Kongnyuy, “West and central Africa is made up of 23 countries and is home to nearly 400m people and renowned names like, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf forst female President in Africa, Chinua Achebe renowned Noveslist, Didlier Drogba, professional footballer and the list goes on”.
He observed, “It is home to 111 women who die every day from pregnancy related complications..home to women and girls whose basic right to access reproductive healthcare information and voluntary family planning services are not upheld”.
Perhaps what is more disheartening says Kongnyuy, is the fact that, “In scale and severity, maternal mortality is the most neglected tragedy of our time; a tragedy that disproportionately affects developing countries especially those in Africa”.
From available figures, Chad and Sierra Leone have average deaths of women in pregnancy close to 1000 per 100, 000 live births while Nigeria’s 576 deaths accounts for the highest absolute number in Africa and 10% in the world.
It becomes very worrisome to know that all these deaths are avoidable “if only women had access to basic quality reproductive healthcare” including family planning, trained professionals especially midwives, as well as access t high quality emergency obstetric and newborn care.
The task before Stephanie Linus therefore is to be the voice of Goodwill and advocate for all women on the these two sub-continents thorough promotion of safe and access to quality motherhood care for every woman, “so that in the barest shortest possible time, it would become achievable that no woman would die giving birth to another life” says Deputy Director, Family Planning and Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Greg Izuwa who presented Stephanie to the admiration of the audience at the prestigious EKO Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Accepting the role of Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal Health in West and Central Africa, Stephanie whose movie ‘DRY’ produced two years ago captured the very essence of lost dreams of millions of girls in Africa wo are forced to be child brides, sees the new assignment “as another challenge of a lifetime to be Bold for Change” in two regions that have been severely hit by terrorism and violence and in which millions of women and girls have become victims of wars.
According to Stephanie, “I am honoured to partner with UNFPA to create an enabling environment for women, girls and every young person to fulfill their potential.
“I will work closely with the Fund to draw attention to the work that still needs to be done across the region to increase universal access to comprehensive sexual reproductive health services and information in order to stop women from dying in the course of bringing forth new life, to empower women and girls to choose freely and for themselves, if, when and how often to get pregnant, and to protect the rights and dignity of young people to enable them thrive and be the best they can be”.