Reproductive Health

Cameroon Loses Ground on Maternal Health Goal

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cameroon has pledged to reduce its maternal deaths by 75 percent from 1990 levels, but compared with that year, more women are now dying. Last year the government joined a regional campaign to accelerate progress on this key development goal.



BAMENDA, Cameroon (WOMENSENEWS)--Ngwa Amos, who earns a living by taxiing people from town to town on his motorbike, is now a single father of four.

His wife died in labor on a recent morning at the Bamenda General Hospital in northwestern Cameroon.

He says the hospital staff asked him to go and bring money for his wife to be operated on because she needed a Caesarian section. He spent two hours searching for money to borrow for the operation, he says.

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The midwife in charge of the delivery says the baby couldn't be born normally because it was breech, or feet-first, in the birth canal. Neither Amos nor his wife knew this because they couldn't afford antenatal care for the last three months of the pregnancy. The couple also couldn't afford a Caesarian section.

Bih Sylvia, a nurse at the hospital, says the hospital has incurred enormous losses in the past for taking on emergency cases without payment so patients are obliged to pay upfront.

When Amos returned to the hospital, he could no longer hear sounds of his wife in labor.

"I thought the baby had been born," he says. "I am shocked to be informed now that she and the baby passed away 30 minutes ago."

The African Union, along with government and nongovernmental organizations, have pledged to reduce maternal deaths in this region, but Cameroon is moving further from that goal.

Global Goal of Fewer Deaths

Goal No. 5 of the Millennium Development Goals – a U.N. initiative agreed to by countries around the world – aims to reduce maternal deaths by 75 percent by 2015.

Cameroon's maternal mortality rate was 550 deaths for every 100,000 births in 1990 – the reference year for the goals. Since then, the key figure has risen to 1,000 deaths, according to the latest U.N. statistics.

About 9,000 women die during childbirth every year in Cameroon, the Ministry of Public Health reported in 2010.

Amid the worsening outlook for pregnant women, health officials say they are determined to curb the number of women who die during childbirth before 2015.

They say the government is training and employing more health personnel and improving the working conditions of those already working in the industry in order to meet this goal.

The African Union launched in 2009 the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa, which Cameroon's government launched on a national scale last year.

Cameroon has also increased its budgetary allocation to health care to about 5.6 percent, but that's still far below the 15-percent minimum agreed to by African Union members in a 2001 declaration.

Eighty percent of maternal deaths are preventable and could be avoided with access to essential maternity and basic health care services, according to UNICEF.

Cameroon's government attributes its maternal mortality problem to the absence of adequate maternal care before, during and after pregnancy.

One reason for this absence is poverty, as many families can't afford to pay for the care they need. More than 30 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, according to UNICEF.

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