MPs Want More Investment in Maternal Health
The Monitor (Kampala)

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Evelyn Lirri

When members of parliament from 13 countries across east and southern Africa gathered in Kampala last week to deliberate on health issues affecting the continent, one thing that came out forcefully was the health of mothers and children.

The MPs who were drawn from parliamentary committees of health and social services from the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Namibia and Swaziland others discussed the challenges affecting the health sector in their various countries, urging for more investment, particularly in maternal health and equity in health.

Dr Jotham Musinguzi, the African regional Director for Partners in Population and Development (PPD), an intergovernmental alliance of 22 developing countries that hosted the meeting painted a bleak picture of the health status in sub Saharan Africa.

He said that while 25 percent of the global disease burden is in the region, only one percent is spent on health. As a result, he said, the region is characterised by poor reproductive health indices, high HIV/Aids and food insecurity among other problems.

Mothers die of preventable illnesses

Maternal mortality indices across the African continent are still high and countries could fail to meet MDG targets related to health unless issues of reproductive health security are addressed.

PPD Executive Director, Mr Harry Jooseery said reproductive health and population issues have been neglected.

"Until we deal with the population problem, stabilise and produce a quality population, we are not going to resolve any of our problems.

The well being of a nation is how much a country has invested in health and education," he said.

Health Minister Dr Stephen Mallinga said that one of the greatest challenges facing developing countries was poor health particularly for women and children.

He said that reproductive health issues have in recent years not received the importance and priority they deserve yet it is central to poverty eradication.

"A woman's lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth in sub Saharan Africa is one in 16 while the risk in developed countries is one in 3,800," Dr Mallinga said.

According to the health minister, the rate at which mothers die from haemorrhage, infection due to lack of antibiotics and complications was absurd. He added that cases that necessitates a caesarean can significantly be reduced through access to prenatal care, skilled attendance at births and emergency obstetric care.

Free bleeding medication

Dr Mallinga said one of the things the ministry was doing was to the introduction of a drug called misoprostol, which can help in preventing women from bleeding after birth, which he said is the leading cause of maternal mortality in Uganda.

Misoprostol tablet, which Dr Mallinga said is already available in health centres will be given free of charge to women who experience bleeding after birth.

Bleeding after birth remains a great health risk for women not only in Uganda but the African continent.

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Uganda's maternal mortality rate, according to the 2006 demographic and health survey stands at 435 for every 100,000 live births.

Besides the misoprostol tablet, the government is also in the process of launching a new roadmap to accelerate the reduction of maternal mortality.

The Parliamentary Social Services Committee in August 2008 presented to parliament a report, among others recommending that maternal/reproductive health be prioritised and resources mobilised to address funding gaps.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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