Political Will; Key to Raising the Bar For the Wellbeing of Women and the Girl Child in Africa – Lanre Olagunju

During the 4th Women Deliver Conference which recently took place in Copenhagen, the largest gathering on girls and women’s health and rights, for more than a decade, Pathfinder International, in conjunction with Hacey Health Initiative hosted West Africans to an engaging gathering during the West Africa Regional Caucus meeting to further relate the Sustainable Development Goals to women and the girl child.

The West Africa Regional Caucus meeting was aimed at bringing distinguished advocates from West Africa together to share perspectives on issues limiting the advancement of health and productivity of women and girls across West Africa, so as to further strengthen collaboration among advocates and partners.

Mrs. Toyin Saraki, founder of Wellbeing Foundation, while delivering her address at the Caucus meeting, emphasised on the need for deeper intervention on issues that affect the welbeing of mothers and babies across Nigeria. She said that it’s a lot cheaper to adequately cater for an expectant mother than spend about N150, 000 on a coffin, which is about the cheapest coffin in Nigeria. Mrs. Saraki pushed her argument further by pointing out that the drugs required during pregnancy— from conception; including the cost of the four required antenatal visits and one ultrasound scan, goes for about N50,000. She made it known that in case of a Caesarean section, the total cost can’t be more than N120,000, whereas, the cheapest coffin goes for N150,00.

Toyin Saraki further made a case for women and newborns in her action-provoking address, charging government officials present and other stakeholders to pay attention to every pregnant woman and invest in every single pregnancy. She further implored her distinguished audience at the West Africa regional caucus meeting at Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen that asking for increased attention for the wellbeing of women and newborns isn’t asking for too much because such investments yield results by keeping women and newborns alive.

Focusing on the need for improved use of data to increase accountability on issues relating to women and the girl child, Mrs. Saraki urged the Nigerian government to wake up to its responsibility of keeping reliable data and not only keep records of births and deaths registration, saying that all women must count beyond point of birth and death. She also pointed out that if the Nigerian government can achieve the Bank Verification Number registration across the nation, keeping record to better advance the health of women and newborns is achievable. In her words, “There are 176 million of us, and our women are still the largest contributors to maternal deaths in the world, and then all we want to do is count how many children are born and how many children are dying”. Toyin Saraki also added that “I’m sorry, I don’t want to be a part of that game, because that is not a game changer. That is just an accounting clerk of death.”

The Commissioner for health in Ondo State, Dr. Adeyanju, while responding to interview questions on cost implication of putting health facilities and intervention programs to aid maternal health said “initially the investment into maternal care for women and the newborns will seem expensive, but as the project advances and the awareness increases, expectant mothers begin to come to hospital early, this drops the cost of care, because when we started in Ondo State, the cost of healthcare used to be N6,500 per pregnant woman, now it has dropped to about N4,500 because more women are becoming better informed and they come to make use of health facility pretty early. So with that, we are able to prevent more complications, and you know prevention is a far better approach when it comes to health.”

Dr. Dayo Adeyanju further explained that the motivation for government should be in line with seeing woman beyond figures, but as flesh and blood, he reiterated that “seeing every woman as a living entity with flesh and blood has been the motivation for us in Ondo State. We don’t see women as mere figures, and this has greatly been translated into policies; with top notch birth intervention programs like the Abiye and Agbebiye  Save Mother Intervention program, a template for mandatory reporting of all maternal deaths  which has helped to drastically reduce maternal mortality, crashing the maternal mortality figure in the state from 745/100, 000 live births to 106/100,000”, he said.

***Lanre Olagunju is a maternal and newborn advocate. @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.

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