Isn’t it amazing how blind we could be to issues around us till someday, somehow, the scales fall of your eyes and you see clearly what has been so obvious? Growing up, maternal mortality to me meant the statistics churned out by the World Health Organization and similar bodies; I never agreed with the figures, not even when my god-mother died in related circumstances. I thought they were overestimates. I was probably busy growing up, studying and doing many other things except noticing the maternal health indicators around me.
Then I got married and extended family obligations demanded my new family’s stay in a semi-rural area in South-Eastern Nigeria. My first shock came with a case of a teenager whose placenta was retained hours after the delivery of her baby which was attended to by a local birth attendant who claimed she told the poor girl’s mother to take the girl to a nearby hospital where there would be capable hands to handle the case; they did so but not before inviting their religious leader who spent hours ‘commanding’ the retained placenta out. Long story cut short, the girl died leaving behind a helpless little baby.
Then I started to notice. I noticed the lady who went for her scheduled antenatal checks and was advised to stay back for monitoring as her blood pressure was abnormally high; she accepted but insisted she must cook for her family and return later. That was the last meal she made for her family.
I noticed the case of the lady whose religious leader ‘prophesied’ that she will have a normal delivery; and convinced her to reject all pleas by her doctor to have a Cesarean Section when she had complications that demanded so.
I noticed the case of the lady who died due to complications that arose from a C-Section that went wrong; doctors in all government hospitals were on strike so she went to one of the one-doctor-and-no-licensed- nurse hospitals found at almost every corner of the country.
I also noticed that a week hardly goes by before I learn of another case of maternal mortality on social media. Then I started arguing that the statistics did not give the true picture; that things are much worse than depicted.
More painful is the knowledge that almost all the deaths were preventable. They were largely errors in judgment from either the patient, her relations, her health practitioner, religious leaders, and even failures of the health institutions; errors which I blame the Nigerian health system for, for failing to introduce innovative measures to minimize and if possible eliminate preventable maternal deaths and in fact all preventable deaths. There should also be punitive measure meted on persons implicated in preventable cases of maternal deaths; from birth attendants to religious leaders and even some patient relations.
Every case of maternal death translates into huge human and economic losses. It leaves behind a trail of heartbreak and despondency. While we expect the government to make significant and sustainable changes to the health system, mothers and everyone concerned should be well-informed on what their choices and chances are to enable them make informed decisions. Every one should know what their roles are in the bid to reduce the unacceptable maternal mortality rate in Nigeria.
I look forward to a time when preventable maternal deaths in Nigeria will be a thing of the past.