These tragic cases of maternal mortality reflect the poor state of the Nigerian healthcare system

Almost two weeks ago, Omowumi Shonuga and her newly born baby both died following acts of gross negligence from the members of staff of Rauf Aregbesola Health Centre, Egbeda and Igando General Hospital, Igando, Lagos. According to her husband, Ayobanji, Omowumi endured hours of painful bleeding brought on by an unsupervised delivery and extreme reluctance as well as delays on the part of the nurses and medical staff that they encountered that day.

The couple encountered nurses who refused to grant them basic medical attention, including an outright refusal to treat their situation with urgency upon their arrival. The nurses were unable to provide the patient with a stretcher, bed space, or even medical care, and going as far as abandoning the baby when it was handed over to them possibly leading to its death after Omowumi was forced to give birth in the car.

Unfortunately, this tragic event is not the first to highlight the poor state of the Nigerian healthcare system. Earlier this year, in April, Segun Adesanya allegedly lost his wife in a similar case of negligence, which spanned the length of her admission to give birth and the period after. Dolapo Adesanya had complained of experiencing pain in her leg prior to giving birth to her third child and she eventually died following post-birth complications.

In November, 2014, a certain Mr. Adeyemi Oduoye accused the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) of causing his wife’s death, by detaining and abandoning her without providing her with proper medical care, following his inability to pay the hospital bills fully.

The immediate causes of maternal mortality include pregnancy complications, haemorrhages, sepsis, and eclampsia, among others, but the general prevalence of the lessthanacceptable conditions that surround the healthcare system in the country, especially as affects expecting mothers, account for ultimate causation. Abysmal government policies to support the physical state of the institutions, and provide them with proper equipment, facilities, and properly trained medical staff, all contribute to the current level of health services that are being rendered to patients nationwide.

As part of Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015, it was projected that the country’s under-five mortality rate would reduce to 70 deaths for every 1,000 live births, and that the rate of mothers dying while giving birth would come down to 250 per every 100,000 live births. According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), however, the current statistics stand at 128 deaths per 1,000 live births for under-five mortality, and 576 deaths per 100,000 live births for maternal mortality, reflecting an increase in the rates.

Between 2005 and 2010, maternal mortality rates in Nigeria witnessed positive improvement with a 27 percent decline, even though the country still ranks among the top 13 countries with the problem. The NDHS report further explains how the place of birth can affect these mortality statistics and goes on to encourage mothers to give birth in healthcare facilities.



However, the situations in these facilities commonly prove quite unpleasant for the mothers, and this is a crucial contributor to maternal mortality in the country. This remains the situation whether they reside in urban or rural areas but, naturally, the rural areas tend to have it far worse. Recently, the Public and Private Development Centre (PDPC), a non-governmental organisation focused on improving governance, preventing corruption, and sustaining development, carried out an investigation on primary healthcare facilities in Kaduna and Nassarawa States. Their findings showed a high level of deterioration in both the facilities and the country’s healthcare systems.

According to Professor Mustapha Danesi, the Nigerian healthcare system still functions on a 19th century level, as the last major positive action that has witnessed is the Nigerian National Health Insurance Policy in 2005. Other than that, it has been static. Subsidised healthcare provided by the government also poses as another problem that is plaguing adequate healthcare provision.

In attempting to provide health services to Nigerian citizens at an almost free cost, the government is not able to afford as many doctors and nurses as should be present in hospitals and health centres, and it is common for patients to grossly outnumber the number of medical staff available to attend to them. In addition to this, these facilities are unable to receive funding for standard and acceptable operations.

This development emphasises the need for the government to join forces with private healthcare providers in order to improve the sector. Dr. Kingsley Akinroye, Executive Director of the Nigerian Heart Foundation and Honorary Consul in Finland, also advises the Nigerian government to increase its efforts in the health sector, starting with the primary healthcare systems, through an empowerment of the local governments. According to him, healthcare provision in the country will be more efficient this way.

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