Thought Leadership Series

Professor Akunyili, Mrs Yar Adua and maternal mortality

….you might wonder what our Minister of Information and our First Lady; Hajiya Turai Umaru have to do with women dying around childbirth (maternal mortality).

Well… they both don’t seem to know how bad things are in Nigeria.

In February 2009 both ladies were at the launch of UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children report UNICEF officials released figures of infant and maternal mortality rates of its member-countries.

Nigeria, with official maternal mortality rate of 800 per 100,000 births was not surprisingly, at the bottom rungs only second to war-torn Congo as the world’s most dangerous place for infants and expectant mothers.

  • Akunyili promptly got up to reject those figures. They did not, she said, reflect the reality “on ground”.
  • Our beloved First Lady is reported as saying that she had visited hospitals in the course of her pet project and at each place she was told that not one woman had died during childbirth! “Come out with new reports,” she reportedly admonished UNICEF, “We do not want those reports again.”!!!!

For those in the know, this report says nothing new. It only reinforces existing facts. These figures are contained in the National Demographic Health Survey from 2003 published by the National Population Commission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

What the report also says that might help these important ladies understand the figures include…

  • 37% of women had a live birth with no antenatal care
  • 13% of children 12–23 months fully immunized (BCG, measles and 3 doses of DPT and polio)
  • 100 per 1000 life births die during infancy

And if you think that this is as bad as it gets..think again. The graph below is from the Federal Ministry of Health, shown at a recent conference on health in Nigeria.

So are the National Population Commission and the Ministry of Health part of the “conspiracy” to give Nigeria a bad name?

I remember an “argument” I had with a friend. He too blamed UNICEF, WHO, UNDP for saying that Life Expectancy at Birth in Nigeria is 47 years. His argument: There are many old men and women in his village…how then can our life expectancy be 47!!!? But that is my friend…be can afford to be challenged by statistics.

The first step in solving any problem is understanding there is a problem, then the next step is understanding the problem. We need to tell ourselves the truth regarding our health sector. The indices of maternal mortality and infant mortality are not just indices for the health sector but indices for a country’s development.

Lets accept our reality…then work slowly to make it better. Unfortunately to moved indices as infant and maternal mortlaity in a country with a population of 150 million will require a bit more tha pet projects and re branding excercises.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

By Chikwe Ihekweazu

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

3 replies on “Professor Akunyili, Mrs Yar Adua and maternal mortality”

this write up needs to go further than this blog… cant you link it to facebook?

The reactions at the presentations where very embarrassing. If Nigeria still has wild polio, lassa fever, meningitis and is reinfecting her neighbours who eradicated thier own guinea worm what on earth is anyone shocked about?

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