By Courtenay Forbes, Global Correspondent for Safe World. March 2014.
Nigeria is a country infamous in the media for political corruption and terrorist activity, particularly in northern parts of the country where terrorist group Boko Haram (‘no western education’) are active.
The situation in Nigeria is at such a point where the government has declared a national emergency, and many areas of the country are inaccessible.
One of the main problems facing Nigerians is the alarmingly high maternal death rate: it is estimated that 36,666 women die every year in childbirth in Nigeria alone. According to recent World Bank data, there are 630 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. However, in rural areas, the maternal mortality rate is even higher.
In 2013, Save the Children published a report titled ‘State of the World’s Mothers’ Report’ placed Nigeria 169th out of 176 countries in rank of the best countries to be a mother in.
There are a complex set of reasons for these alarming statistics: medical facilities are poorly equipped and maintained, particularly in rural areas, and cultural and religious traditions mean that many women will go to unskilled spiritual figures rather than a traditional hospital when in labour. These practices are prevalent to the extent that UNICEF reports indicate that only 39% of births in Nigeria are overseen by trained professionals.
Adepeju Jaiyeoba - Saving Mothers and Babies
Someone who is all too aware of the issues facing mothers in Nigeria is lawyer and women’s rights advocate, Adepeju Jaiyeoba. Having lost a friend in childbirth, Adepeju recognised the dire need to address the issue of maternal health. Together with medical specialists, she founded the Brown Button Foundation (BBF) in 2011.
The organisation focuses on educating expectant mothers around the country about the dangers of unsanitary delivery conditions. BBF, recognising the cultural importance of traditional birth attendants (TBAs), respects local practices provides these figures of religious significance with tools and knowledge to better enable them to provide medical as well as spiritual care for women giving birth.
The lack of infrastructure for ensuring the safety of mothers is exacerbated in rural areas: an estimated 70% of the 2009 $264 million budget for healthcare was spent in urban areas of Nigeria, meaning that women in the countryside are hours away from the nearest hospital. BBF seeks to help rectify this issue by travelling to the remotest, and often the most dangerous and hostile, areas of the country in order to provide equipment and training.
The doctor to patient ratio in rural Nigeria is 1:6,400 approximately, resulting in even more women turning to more readily available TBAs. BBF, being aware of these unique issues, improves the quality of antenatal care at the grassroots level.
A social venture, inspired by some of the lapses noticed by BBF, Mothers Delivery Kit (MDK), is improving the situation even further.
Developed by Adepeju alongside doctors, these kits are self-contained packages containing the essential items for helping to ensure the safe delivery of children, even in remote areas.
Each kit contains:
- 1 absorbent disposable delivery mat
- 1 infant receiver,
- 2 pairs of sterile gloves,
- 2 cord clamps,
- 1 mucus extractor,
- 1 scalpel blade,
- 1 bottle of methylated spirit,
- 1 antiseptic soap,
- 1 pack of cotton wool,
- 1 bottle of olive oil,
- 1 bottle of disinfectant,
- 5 pieces of gauze,
- 10 maternity pads,
- Immunization calendars, immunization and antenatal reminder request forms
Components such as the bottle of olive oil included in the kits acknowledge the cultural importance of certain religious rites associated with childbirth, and therefore, can be used in conjunction with local beliefs and practices, whilst providing the essential basic medical care. MDK developed the kits alongside local businesses, and as a result can produce them cheaply enough to sell them at affordable prices where they can be sold, and given to those in desperate need.
In its first six months, MDK ventures have provided over 6,000 kits – in effect, saving as many lives. There have been no recorded cases of maternal or infant deaths where the kits have been used.
Included in the kits are immunizations calendars, which help new mothers to request them for their children and antenatal reminders. As a direct result, where the kits have been distributed, there is a 70% increase in antenatal and immunization attendance. The kits are such a success, MDK Ventures now boasts a network of 140 TBAs, 25 primary health care centres using their kits, alongside 40 private hospitals and one university teaching hospital.
The vital work that BBF and MDK are doing has not gone unnoticed in the international community which has continued to heap a huge amount of praise for the contribution these efforts are making towards better maternal health in Nigeria.
Most recently, MDK has been chosen by the Colorado-based Unreasonable Institute, being one of 240 applicants from 60 countries, as one of the 14 ventures nominated for its 2014 fellowship program. The Unreasonable Institute supports entrepreneurs who are tackling important issues in their ventures.
Inspired by a woman who lost a friend due to a lack of basic care, this cause addresses the basic right of every person to a safe entry to this world, and proper care for all mothers. Maternal health is an issue that touches all of our lives.
Supporting this crucial initiative through donating even a small amount or merely raising awareness will enable Adepeju and her colleagues to further improve information and facilities available to mothers all across Nigeria, indiscriminate of location or monetary means.
Courtenay Forbes is studying Ancient History and History.
"Once completing my degree, I will be studying law in London, and then training as a barrister.. I firmly believe real progress must be made by re-educating societies concerning the treatment of women, and bridging the gap between traditions and modern-day human rights."