By: Lindsey Taylor Wood, Communications Associate
In Northern Nigeria, 1 in 23 women will die in pregnancy or childbirth. In fact, 10% of maternal deaths, globally, occur there; and rates of newborn and child mortality are also amongst the highest in the world. In 2008, a consortium of partners, funded by the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom and the State Department of the Norwegian Government, launched a new maternal, newborn and child health program to address this epidemic.
Aimed at improving “the quality and availability of health services including antenatal and postnatal care, safer deliveries, care for newborns and infants, better nutrition, and routine immunization against preventable diseases,” the Partnership for Reviving Routine Immunization in Northern Nigeria, Maternal Newborn and Child Health Initiative (PRRINN-MNCH) continues to have a profound impact on the communities it serves. The initiative, which centers on a population of more than 16 million people in the four northern states of Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe and Zamfara, intends to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality by 25% as of 2013.
Of the more notable and effective programs, is the ‘body tools’ curriculum. Due to the low literacy rate in Nigeria (over 80% of the women are unable to read), midwives train community health volunteers on a series of hand and body signals, representing eight of the critical symptoms characteristic of a difficult pregnancy or childbirth. In turn, these volunteers often referred to as 'mother’s helpers', then educate the pregnant women in their communities on how to use these signals when they need to communicate that they are experiencing problems delivering.
According to Health Partners International, the lives of 354 at-risk women have been saved from dying in pregnancy and childbirth; 15,000 unintended pregnancies have been prevented due to family planning services; and the deaths of 9,096 children averted due to routine immunization, neonatal and child health services. Additionally, 201,613 mothers had access to obstetric care, with 56,998 deliveries attended by Skilled Birth Attendants, in the last 18 months alone.
Hauwa’u, a 25 year old women who already lost two children during childbirth, attributes the success of her last pregnancy to trained community health worker, Fatsuma, who recognized she was experiencing complications and sent her to the hospital. “When this all happened my husband wasn't home” said Hauwa’u. “Had it not been for the community members and volunteers I don't know what would have happened to me. I could be dead by now. Because of the help they gave me, I survived." Fatsuma, now a champion for family planning, has taken her advocacy a step further by persuading families to create a communal savings arrangement for medical care, to organize corresponding transportation and to identify prospective blood donors.
The PRRINN-MNCH programs, led by Health Partners International, GRID Consulting Nigeria and Save the Children UK, expect to produce even greater results by 2013, with an estimated two million women to receive better maternal health care due to their efforts. "It's not only the volunteers who are transmitting this information, it's the whole community" says Binta, another midwife that trains volunteers in ‘body tools.' "One person will learn and then ten or twenty people will learn from them."