High maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa: causes and solutions

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Imagine being the mother, and only parent, of six children in Nigeria, Africa, who has to decide between keeping her seventh child, held safe within her womb, or feeding the other six children who look at her with hungry eyes of starvation.

One of the major global health problems is maternal mortality, but it is especially affecting Sub-Saharan Africa.

Although, some countries have been able to keep this under control and to flatten their curve, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are not one of them.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal mortality is the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of pregnancy termination.

This is irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.

Due to the various causes of maternal mortality, there failed to be a single approach to reduce the issue in this region.

Addressing the factors of maternal mortality plays a key role in ascertaining methods in rate reduction for Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to WHO, “Every year, about 500 000 women die in the world and half of them happen in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

In 2017, these deaths accounted for two-thirds of the total maternal deaths in the world.

Unfortunately, in Sub-Saharan Africa some maternal deaths aren’t accounted for in hospitals or otherwise under-recorded, under-reported and misclassified.

Causes of maternal mortality 

Maternal deaths occur as a result of complications during and after pregnancy and childbirth.

Most complications are preventable and treatable if detected in time. The major complications leading to maternal deaths include the following:

  • Infections
  • Severe bleeding (occurs mostly during childbirth)
  • High blood pressure (causing pre-eclampsia and eclampsia)
  • Unsafe abortion
  • Complications during delivery

Other causes are secondary due to pre-existing diseases or conditions complicated or aggravated by pregnancy.

How can the maternal mortality rate be reduced?

Education: Educating girls and women will inform them or give them tools on how to obtain the proper health care needed for proper health.

A literate woman is able to make informed choices for herself and her family.

Teaching young women about sex education allows her to know her body and how it works, it also assists in her protecting herself from unwanted pregnancy.

She is able to share with her peers about what she has learned. Daily conversation among these people groups will allow the proper information to circulate naturally and organically.

Empowerment: Women need to be empowered and educated on how to eradicate poverty. This will enable them seek proper healthcare during and after pregnancy.  

A woman with a sufficient income tends to make more sound health choices without having to depend on others charity, as is common in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Access to health facilities: Hospitals and primary health care centers aren’t available or affordable in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

Adding a simple program such as trained midwives, nurses, and doctors to these health facilities (with improved and modernized instruments) would provide the quality health care these people deserve.

Family planning: Women should be educated about the importance of family planning and the effect it has on their bodies, finances, and employment.

Contraceptive options should be discussed in detail in order to choose a family planning method that suits their needs.

Family planning reduces poverty as it reduces unwanted pregnancy.

It also gives women time to heal and recover from their last pregnancy before getting pregnant again, significantly reducing bleeding out during childbirth.

Eradicating child marriage practices: The practice of child marriage should be abolished. A girl’s body is harmed if she gets pregnant too young because her body is not fully matured.

As such, she should be allowed to go to school or learn a trade and by the time she is through with this, she would have been matured enough for marriage.

This will help in preventing vesicovaginal fistula, which is one of the effects of child marriage.

Community Empowerment

At the Emmanuel Osemota Foundation (EOF), steps have been taken to reduce maternal mortality rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.

EOF provides: education for pregnant women, mosquito nets, antenatal care sessions, medications/healthcare for women during and after pregnancy, and empowerment programs.

Our women are important to us and to their surrounding communities. It’s for this reason, EOF has played, and continues to play, significant role in reducing the rate of maternal deaths within local Nigerian communities.

Let’s join together to reduce the mortality rate of mothers in our communities.


Written by: Deborah Adeniyi, guest writer for EOF

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