Death is pain. And pain is death. Especially, the death of a loved one, a family member, a friend, a colleague. Death bears no pleasure. It’s all pain. It’s worse if it’s the death of a child, an infant, a baby, either still born or dying days, weeks, months or a few years after birth. It could also be the death of a mother during or shortly after childbirth. Whichever course it takes, death is a harbinger of sorrow.
This piece is limited to death of infants and their mothers in the course of pregnancy and delivery. It’s become a matter of global concern. And Africa is worse hit. Infant mortality and maternal mortality have become active agents of death. The stats are eerie.
Infant mortality rate in Nigeria in 2019 stood at 74.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Infant mortality refers to death of a child before his or her first birthday. It could mean death of the child in the womb, during birth or shortly after birth. Going by the statistics, it means about 74 infants out of every 100,000 die before their first birthday. This is still very high and unacceptable especially in the face of advancement and sophistication in medical technology. Scientists have advanced several reasons and causes of infant mortality. They include birth defects; premature births or low birth-weight; sudden infant death syndrome; maternal complications of pregnancy and respiratory distress challenges. Two other major factors fuel infant mortality, particularly in developing nations: ignorance and poverty.
Here, I recall a sad incident in my Lagos neighbourhood years back. A woman, mother of three and wife of a very lazy artisan, died during childbirth on account of poverty. She opted for a traditional birth attendant (TBA) in lieu of experts in hospital. It was during complications at childbirth that people got to know that she did not have the benefit of antenatal services during pregnancy. She was, on the contrary, at the mercy of the TBA who fed her with all manner of concoctions. She was obviously too poor to register in the local clinic and too ignorant to realise the crass limitations of TBAs in matters of antenatal complications. She died during childbirth in a dingy makeshift ‘clinic’ of the TBA. Of course, the child never made it out alive: Stillbirth! Her equally poor neighbours wailed inconsolably over her demise and the agony of losing both mother and child. It was their cry that attracted other residents in the street. Too late, she and her child were gone. A case of infant and maternal mortality. Some even questioned the gods for allowing such evil, losing mother and child, befall the family. And for some, the strange death of mother and child was a demonic voodoo visited on the poor family. In some parts of Nigeria, maternal and infant mortality is usually attributed to witches or some form of voodoo spell cast on the woman. Ignorance!
The World Health Organization (WHO) placed maternal mortality rate in Nigeria at 814 (per 100,000 live births). The lifetime risk of a Nigerian woman dying during pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum or post-abortion is 1 in 22 persons, in contrast to the lifetime risk in developed countries estimated at 1 in 4,900 persons. These statistics pack a lot of odds against the Nigerian woman with very dire consequences.
Add to these odds, the pang of pain at childbirth. Scientists say a human body can bear only up to 45 del (unit) of pain. But at the time of giving birth, a mother feels up to 57 del of pain. This is unbearably high and indexes the excruciating pains our mothers endure to beget us. It’s staggering. According to science, this is similar to 20 bones getting fractured in one body at a time. This is why every mother deserves empathy, love and respect. The pain of childbearing is like a temporary sojourn in hell without dying. With such pain no woman should die during pregnancy, let alone lose her child.
This is where the recent commissioning of a 132-bed Mother and Child specialist hospital in Rivers State by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire, raises a banner of hope for residents of the state and for humanity. It’s the best gift to give aspiring mothers, mothers and the rest of us.
The hospital which has an on-site quarters for doctors is furnished and fully equipped with 50 delivery rooms, six modular operating theatres, in-vitro fertilization equipment, fluoroscopic equipment, mammography equipment, among others to bolster precision and time-critical pediatric and gynaecological practice.
Governor Nyesom Wike has, by this gesture, given a boost to maternal health, not only in Rivers but the entire South-south zone. He has emotionally connected with our mothers, with their children and with humanity. And to think that this was the same project that the interventionist agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, played yo-yo with by promising to fund a part of the project but never providing a dime, makes the effort of Wike not only an act of heroism but a show of responsibility and responsiveness. Wike has built a nest in the hearts of our mothers. Good healthcare has ceased to be measured by gigantic buildings. It’s now a function of equipment and personnel. Nigeria is not in short supply of requisite skills in medicine. All over the world, in top hospitals across the globe, Nigerian medics have been known to do great things, performing stunning medical feats and beating expectations including in the most complicated of cases. The challenge has been a deficit in infrastructure. Wike has provided a counterfoil to the distressing cries of mothers and families losing their loved ones and children during and after child birth.
Some states have tried to build mother and child hospitals but they exist only just in buildings – no equipment, no personnel. Even the structures are poorly maintained. The Rivers State model betters them all. Ahead of this intervention and many others in healthcare, the state government has instituted a scholarship scheme for medical studies which will ensure a steady supply of doctors and relevant personnel to effectively manage the health facility and others strewn across the state.
The government should ensure that the new Mother and Child hospital is both affordable and accessible to the poor. No longer shall we lose the life of any mother, aspiring mother and children before, during and after child birth. Some of the deaths we ascribe to witches and wizards are actually caused by incompetent leadership, ignorance and poverty. Wike has continued to show both capacity and competence. He should not only stay the course, he should put in place a solid structure that would ensure sustainability of his many iconic legacies in health, sports, education and other spheres of human endeavour. Nigerians deserve to live and live well. And that good life must start from the womb and from our mothers. It takes a healthy mother to nurture a healthy family. But, hey, why can’t we have such well-equipped health facility across the nation. Some governors sure need a jab to get them thinking and working.