Seek, reach, receive – what we need to reduce maternal mortality

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Dr Kennedy Mubaiwa

Higherlife Foundation Chief Executive Officer makes a case for more training programs for healthcare workers. He posits that skills improvement may help reduce maternal mortality rates in Africa. 

Recently, the World Health Organisation released a report on the trends in maternal mortality from 2000-2020. The numbers were a cold reminder of how far there is to go to reduce deaths during pregnancies or childbirth.

During 2020, around 30 expecting mothers died every hour. Every day, 800 women around the world died during childbirth. The vast majority of these deaths occurred in low-income and lower-middle-income countries;– sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 70% of all maternal deaths.

Shocking data, but there is hope. There has been a marked improvement since 2000. Sub-Saharan Africa cut its maternal mortality rate by a third between 2000 and 2020.

A huge part of this success is owed to the many midwives, doctors, nurses and Community Health Workers who have been central in providing mothers and women with information on their sexual reproductive health and rights. These critical conversations significantly contribute to reducing deaths recorded during pregnancy and in the delivery process.

However, there is more to be done if we are to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 317 per 100,000 live births in sub-Saharan Africa and reach SDG 3.1 of less than 70, a goal that we at Higherlife Foundation aspire to achieve.

To do so, we must focus on the three factors driving maternal mortality: seek care, reach care, and receive care. Expecting mothers should recognise when they need care and immediately seek help, care facilities should be easy to reach, and the care mothers receive should be of a high standard and quality.

At Higherlife Foundation, our commitments in maternal health through training 3,700 healthcare workers and equipping 16 hospitals in Zimbabwe focus on the third factor as we aim to create broader access to affordable, quality health services for the most vulnerable communities and contribute to greater resilience of health care systems.

Our interventions have shown us that if resources are made available to train healthcare workers on how to deal with emergency maternal cases, and if healthcare facilities are well-equipped, we can reduce the maternal mortality rate at an institution by at least 40%.

But we need more investment across the three factors and particularly in personnel training and health services equipment to further reduce the maternal mortality rate in Africa.

There is an unwritten contract between our communities and our healthcare workers. We expect them to perform miracles and are eternally grateful when they do, but we fail to match our gratitude with resources, funding, and training. Miracles will not help us achieve the SDG on maternal mortality.

So, as we think about our continental goals and aspirations in this decade, let us show a collective, concerted effort to save lives. Let’s work together to give more mothers the joy of a healthy and happy pregnancy and the chance to raise their children.

Dr Kennedy Mubaiwa is the Chief Executive Officer of Higherlife Foundation, a social impact organization that is investing in Human Capital Development for Sustainable livelihoods. He is a medical doctor from the University of Zimbabwe, an Anaesthetist and he also holds an MBA. Dr Mubaiwa has held senior roles in the Pharmaceutical Industry in Africa, including being Medical Director for Eli Lilly Southern Africa, and Executive Director at Adcock Ingram Africa. 


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