WHO warns of setbacks in Africa’s progress in maternal and child mortality

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  • 390 women, 72 newborns per 100,000 live births, will die by 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa
  • The continent has 1.55 health workers per 1,000 inhabitants, below the WHO density threshold of 4.45

The World Health Organization (WHO) has sounded the alarm about the setbacks in the progress of the African region in terms of maternal and infant mortality. A new report released yesterday at a virtual press conference by the WHO African Region, titled ‘The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022’, finds a slowdown in progress made over the past decade against maternal and child mortality.

The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022 assessed the nine targets related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on health and found that, at the current rate, further investment is needed to accelerate progress towards the goals. Among the most difficult to achieve will be the reduction of maternal mortality.

Principal Research Officer, Kenya Institute of Medical Research, Dr Benjamin Tsofa, joined Senior Technical Officer, Health Systems Development, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Humphrey Karamagi, at the conference press.

Also available from the WHO Regional Office for Africa to answer questions were Team Leader, Emergency Operations, Dr. Fiona Braka; Medical Officer, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Treatment and Care, Dr. Fank Lule; and the Strategic Health Information Officer, Dr. Serge Bataliack.

According to Atlas 2022 reports, in sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 390 women will die in childbirth for every 100,000 live births by 2030. This is more than five times the 2030 SDG target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths from per 100,000 live births, and much more than the average of 13 deaths per 100,000 live births registered in Europe in 2017. That is more than the global average of 211. To reach the SDG target, Africa will need a reduction of 86 % over 2017 rates (the last time data was reported), an unrealistic feat at the current rate of decline.

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The report noted that the infant mortality rate in the region is 72 per 1,000 live births. At the current annual rate of decline of 3.1%, 54 deaths per 1,000 live births are projected by 2030, well above the reduction target of less than 25 per 1,000.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said: “Africa has achieved some of the fastest rates of reduction globally in key health targets, but momentum is waning. This means that for many African women, childbirth remains a persistent risk and millions of children do not live long enough to celebrate their fifth birthday.

“It is crucial that governments make a radical course correction, overcome challenges and accelerate the pace towards health goals. These objectives are not mere milestones, but the very foundations of a healthier life and the well-being of millions of people.

According to the report, while the region is experiencing a slowdown in momentum toward key health goals, such as vaccine coverage, it has made notable progress in some areas during the first decade of the 21st century. The mortality of children under five years of age was reduced by 35%; neonatal mortality rates were reduced by 21%; and maternal mortality was reduced by 28%.

Over the past decade, progress on all three goals has stalled, particularly for maternal mortality. She noted that while Africa has made progress in family planning, with 56.3% of women of reproductive age (15-49) meeting their family planning needs with modern contraceptive methods in 2020, the region is still far behind. below the world average of 77 percent. cent, and the worst performance.

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The WHO report noted that the slowdown has been exacerbated by the disruptive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Crucial health services such as postnatal care for women and newborns, neonatal intensive care units and antenatal care services, immunization services were disrupted during the pandemic. Since 2021, Africa has also faced a resurgence of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Measles cases increased 400 percent between January and March 2022 compared to the same period a year earlier,” she noted.

According to the report, inadequate investment in health and financing of health programs are some of the main drawbacks to meeting the health SDGs. For example, a 2022 WHO survey of 47 African countries found that the region has a ratio of 1.55 health workers (physicians, nurses, and midwives) per 1,000 people, below the WHO density threshold. 4.45 health workers per 1,000 people needed to provide essential health care. services and achieve universal health coverage.

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