International Development Partners join forces with Aisha Buhari on maternal, child Health

The United Nations (UN) under Secretary General and Executive Director of UNFPA, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin and a team of Development Partners, are exploring opportunities through Mrs Buhari’s office to develop a support programme to complement the present administration’s efforts at improving health, nutrition and population outcomes in Nigeria.

The Senior Special Assistant to Mrs. Buhari, Dr. Hajo Sani, who disclosed this in a statement Wednesday, said that the wife of the president’s concern about the plight of mothers and children in Nigeria regarding health and nutritional hazards in the country, has attracted international attention.

The statement quoted Osotimehin as saying that while the programme will focus on the poor and vulnerable in Nigeria, it was good practice globally with Kenya and Namibia as countries that have used similar programs to support health improvement efforts in their countries.

It also disclosed that Mrs Buhari is “determined to use her privileged position to become an advocacy champion for raising attention and resources necessary to make a difference in Maternal New born and Child Health outcomes in Nigeria”.

Towards this end, the statement revealed that Mrs. Buhari has met with two country representatives of UNFPA, Mrs. Ratidzai Ndhlovu and UN Women, Dr. Grace Ongile.

It said at the meeting, they “discussed extensively about the collaborative efforts on rapid identification of the issues that have militated against good health outcomes especially in Reproductive, Maternal New-born Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) in Nigeria”.

@Lanre_Olagunju: A Tweet Might Just Save a Newborn’s Life

From all indications the Social Media has definitely come to stay. New media as it is fondly called is not just changing the way we live daily, many of its advantages and success stories live with us today. Social Media is not just changing how we buy and sell, it is redefining the concept of market. Social Media is gradually influencing election processes, and more importantly how elections will be conducted in few years’ time.

In terms of a reaching the world with a message in the shortest time possible, the word “impossible” has totally lost its essence in this regard. Gone are the days when you would have to wait till daybreak or evening to get updates on National Newspapers. We now live in a new era that mocks the jet age and most of what it stood for.

But what we make of the tool – social media-  is practically at the height of our readiness, doggedness and knowledge of what it can provide. Many who prefer to focus on the negatives of social media can remain in the dark as long as they want. There is practically no tool in the world that can’t be used for either good or bad. Is it not the same water wey no get enemy that floods houses, states and communities? Come on! The same fire that purifies gold is what destroys live and property. A rifle or pistol in the hand of a robber or terrorist serves an entirely different purpose in the hand of a police or soldier. That’s how social media is. At the end, a tool is just as good as what you make of it.

The transformative power of social media as it concerns the health sector was well exercised by Nigerians when the people of Bagega in Zamfara State were hit with lead poisoning as a result of wrong mining practices. In January 2013, Nigerians with the hash tag #SaveBagega on Twitter showed that citizens could get the government to act as fast as it should at a particular point in time.

Doctors Without Borders were ready to treat about 1500 children who were affected by lead poisoning; but before the treatment, remediation had to be done so the treatment can be effective. With an intensive and persistent campaign on Twitter and Facebook, young people with the help of social media were able to get the Nigerian government to release funds for remediation, so treatment for 1500 kids in Zamfara could commence. Bagega had been waiting for remediation since 2010 after 400 kids died and thousands were poisoned. Help never came until January 2013 when Nigerians said “enough is enough” not with guns or bullets, just an hashtag. That’s how effective social media can be when we are determined to engage it wisely.

It is surprising to realize that many knowledgeable Nigerians aren’t even aware that Nigeria presently accounts for the second highest number of annual maternal mortality in the world after India. Maternal deaths in Nigeria alone accounts for 14% of maternal mortality globally. India accounts for 17%, though India’s population is more than seven times that of Nigeria.

If we don’t collectively see this as a threat to the wellbeing of women and newborns, then what else would ever bother us as a people? The most frightening part is that we rarely see the deaths of women who die daily as an issue that demands national attention. No, we don’t! We are not concerned enough.

This is probably because we see such deaths as mere statistics. If we were any bothered, maybe we would have forced our politicians to get the right policies and result since that seems to be the language they understand best. Maybe we would have asked them some tough questions that puts a demand on accountability in this regard.

It is easy to point out that during elections, we rarely hear politicians promise to improve on the health of women and children, essentially as it concerns maternal, newborn and child health issues. They would rather promise; to improve power, provide good roads, free WIFI and we watch them say little or absolutely nothing about the shameful reality that of all the women who die globally during pregnancy or childbirth, 14% of them are Nigerian women. We must demand accountability from President Buhari and his team, most especially when he announces the new Minister of Health, regardless of which part of Nigeria he is from.

The World Bank recently approved $500 million dollars to improve maternal and child health in Nigeria, we all have to keep an eye and keep asking questions to ensure accountability. This mustn’t be another case of corruption as usual as this is not the first time funds would be made available by international agencies or donors. Media attention is also crucial to holding policymakers accountable so as to equitably maximize resources allocated for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) cum Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) projects.

In every sense, we need to take issues that concerns Nigerian women seriously; not just the ones who live in cities who aren’t actually immune to avoidable and treatable pregnancy related complications, but also those helpless ones in villages. Those deaths aren’t even recorded, probably because no one cares. Even in a state like Lagos, I get to hear of cases of deaths that are avoidable, some due to lack of resources on the part of the mother, lack of blood in some hospitals, and the most painful part which is gradually becoming rampant… errors caused by medical experts.

Something has to give. No community, country or continent looks away at the agony of women and newborns yet expect to prosper.

It might be difficult to see how each Nigerian would practically solve this huge challenge; but I challenge all advocates across Africa to demand more from government. That was what saved Bagega. We can possibly save more women and children with the same approach. Many of the maternal mortality cases are preventable, yet these deaths comes with high costs in form of income and productivity loss and a whole lot of other social-economic pains attached to such loss. When a mother dies, the child’s health, education, growth and general wellbeing suffers. In fact, the pain gets to the entire community directly or otherwise.

We can also demand more from health agencies. It is very important that they carry Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (MNCH) advocates, journalists and social media influencers along with the policies that must be properly addressed in other to shape public awareness and opinion.
A good strategy to motivate, create and sustain interest among journalists and media influencers is to provide them with data, trainings and seminars which would intelligently aid their reportage. National issues only receive attention when they affect a large number of people or when citizens realize that inactions will lead to nationwide setback.

Across the globe, about 1,500 women die on a daily basis as a result of pregnancy and childbirth related complications. 98% of these deaths occur in developing countries. The giant of Africa is responsible for 14%. Yearly, an average of 15 million women who survive pregnancy and childbirth complications develop physical and mental disabilities thereafter. Bloggers, social media experts and all other media experts have an active role to play in ensuring that we reduce the number of women who lose their lives while giving birth across the continent of Africa. Maternal health advocate should be encouraged to extend their advocacy to radio as this media tool remains a vital source to educate and sensitize women on sexual health related issues. Unfortunately, many advocates get discouraged with the exorbitant cost of airtime. Media houses should bear in mind that sometimes we make money, other times we save and preserve lives with money and available resources.

***Lanre Olagunju is an MNCH advocate, blogs for the African Union on the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality in Africa. He is @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.

Nigeria Gets $500m From World Bank To Improve Maternal, Child Health

The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors has approved a $500 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to significantly improve maternal, child, and nutrition health services for women and children in Nigeria.

By improving access to higher quality health services, the new development financing will help Nigeria to achieve its “Saving One Million Lives (SOML) Initiative,” which was launched by the Federal Ministry of Health in October 2012 to save the lives of the more than 900,000 women and children who die every year in Nigeria from largely preventable causes.

“Saving One Million Lives is a bold response from the Nigerian Government to improve the health of the country’s mothers and children so they can survive illness and thrive. This, in turn, will also contribute to the social and economic development of Africa’s largest economy,” said Benjamin Loevinsohn, a Lead Health Specialist and Task Team Leader for the new project…”

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Media Reporting: Keeping Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights on the Government Agenda By Lanre Olagunju

To achieve significant progress in improving maternal, newborn and child health, both men and women must realise and come to terms with their sexual and reproductive health rights. The World Health Organization recognises the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children; to have the information and means to do so; and to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. This also includes the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, a non-binding programme of action stated that governments have a duty to cater for individuals’ reproductive needs, rather than demographic targets.  The Cairo Programme of Action was the first to assert that reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system.

If developing nations are to achieve some of the United Nation’s Millennium Development goals on reproductive health, the influence of the media needs to be harnessed in mobilizing the private sector and community groups to act. It can also ensure that commitments made by government and non-government organizations are met.  Such goals can be achieved through media promoted discussions, lectures, articles, blogs, and debates for public sensitization.

Maternal mortality rate is highest in Africa, where poor sexual and reproductive health is prevalent. UNFPA reports that illnesses and deaths from poor reproductive health account for one-fifth of the global burden of disease, and that only 20% of married women use modern contraception. Unfortunately, the media reportage and attention given to sexual and reproductive health remains low. This has to do with the inability or lack of motivation to report such issues by media practitioners.

The media plays a vital role in galvanizing governmental and non-governmental support on issues related to SRHR by continually raising public awareness to a targeted audience such as policymakers, program implementers and other key stakeholders. As a result, reproductive health issues become more visible in developmental discussions. By promoting openness and public discussions, the media can help break the culture of silence and level of stigma and discrimination associated with SRHR issues. Also, bringing these issues to the fore will provide information that will positively affect reproductive health policy.

The media drives the news and decide how they are presented. It is also a major key in setting a nation’s policy agenda. Before an issue can capture the attention of policy makers, the media must first report the issue, then present how it affects national development.  Issues receive attention usually because it affects a large number of people or because inactions will lead to nationwide setbacks.

When such an issue receives wide coverage, policy makers are then persuaded by facts and proofs to look into how it can be dealt with. In the same vein, both the mass media and new media have the potential to promote better outcomes for sexual and reproductive health. A good example is the case of the reporter who succeeded in persuading the Tanzanian government to increase funding for contraceptives in 2010, after being trained by Population Reference Bureau to profile shortages in family planning supplies.

To grab the attention of high level policy makers, strategic and informed media coverage should be engaged by SRHR advocates, health personnel, as well as mass media and social media practitioners. It is imperative that they are familiar with the policies and programs needed to be addressed, so as to help shape policies and public opinion. Media attention is also crucial to holding policymakers accountable for spending and equitably maximizing resources allocated for SRHR projects, most especially in countries where corruption is endemic.

Health agencies and organizations should look out for strategic ways to engage journalists and media personnel in the sexual right and reproductive health campaign. A good strategy to motivate, create and sustain interest among journalists is to provide them with data, trainings and seminars which would intelligently aid their reporting on the issue. That aside, organizing journalist awards with cash prizes for good reporting on SRHR can as-well boost the status and prestige associated with reporting on SRHR.

I am @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter

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