•Nigerian Actress Emerges Ambassador To Tackle Menace
By Chioma Umeha
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has said that Nigeria would be saving about N720 billion, an equivalent of $1.5 billion annually by investing in maternal health.
Eugene Kongnyuy, Deputy Representative of UNFPA, said this in Lagos at the unveiling of the Regional Ambassador for Maternal Health in West and Central Africa Region organised by the fund.
Stephanie Linus-Okereke renowned Nollywood Actress, was unveiled as the Regional Ambassador for Maternal Health in West and Central Africa Region by Professor Isaac Adewole, Minister of Health.
Mr. Kongnyuy said, “In Nigeria, the country will be saving 1.5 billion dollars yearly by investing in maternal health.
“Investing in maternal health is a smart investment; if you put one dollar in maternal health, it will yield 120 dollars.
“So, it is where the government should put its money, because it is yielding high returns.
“Globally, if you think of maternal health and translate it, the number of women dying, because when a woman dies, the baby is also likely to die.
“When you sum up all that globally it leads to productivity loss of $15 billion every year of these women dying,” he said.
The representative said that the costs of not taking action now on maternal health would mean that poverty eradication efforts would be undermined.
According to him, economic growth will slow down, inequalities sustained and countries will miss out on a vast source of human capital needed to take sustainable development forward in the 21st century.
“While this is the role of the government, the mandate of UNFPA, and an area of interest of many organisations, the role of the community and individual champions cannot be underestimated.
“In particular, we need high profile public advocates for maternal health and the rights of young people to reach their full potential in Africa,” he said.
To reduce maternal mortality to barest minimum, it is important to ensure the use of reliable and appropriately collected analysed data for planning, management and monitoring progress.
There is currently no up to date data on availability of emergency obstetric and newborn care in most countries in west and central Africa.
The West and Central Africa region are the most affected in the African continent with Nigeria alone contributing 12 per cent of world maternal deaths, Deputy Representative of UNFPA said.
Mr. Kongnyuy said that more than 55 per cent of pregnant women still gave birth without any assistance from a skilled health worker.
He said that only 12 per cent of pregnant women who needed emergency obstetric care services received them.
“This means lots of women and adolescent girls are still at risk of dying from pregnancy-related conditions.
“Some progress has been made, but a lot still needs to be done.
As Regional Ambassador, Linus will help advocate and raise awareness on the issues on maternal health, while encouraging policies and laws that protect the rights and dignity of the girl child.
Her appointment which formed part of activities to mark the International Women’s Day (IWD) is a reward to her passion for women’s right and health.
With the unveiling of the new Ambassador and UNFPA’s stance on maternal issue, which is that every pregnant woman should be safe, more awareness is expected to be created in West and Central Africa with a view of reducing maternal mortality to barest minimum in the shortest possible time.
Kongnyuy said: The maternal mortality ratio in West and Central Africa for example, is one of the highest in the world.
“In addition to maternal mortality, violence against women and girls, including harmful practices like female genital mutilation, gender inequality and economic disenfranchisement, such as girls not going to school are widespread in the regions.”
Kongnyuy further said: “There is a need to raise awareness on these development issues, engage communities and advocate for women and girls at the policy and decision making level.
“Africa countries as well as international community stand to pay a high price if no bold action is taken to invest in the young people and maternal health.”
To curb maternal deaths, the UNFPA and its partners are also soliciting for girl-child education.
The award winning actress and activist was picked by the organisation as maternal health champion because of a movie she produced titled: “Dry.”
The movie told the ugly story of a girl who was married off as a child bride to a man old enough to be her father and was abandoned by the same man, after she had obstetric fistula.
The little girl later died of the disease without fulfilling her dreams and aspirations.
The renowned movie producer says: “Two years after production, I haven’t stopped raising my voice or using my platform to advocate for the rights of women and adolescent girls, their right to equality, their right to education and access to reproductive health care and information, including access to family planning.”
While Stephanie Linus was chosen as UNFPA’s regional Ambassador for maternal health, another female, Gina Din of Kenya was also selected as a national Ambassador.
Linus who felt honoured by the recognition said, “I am honoured to partner with UNFPA, to create an enabling environment for women, girls and every young person’s to fulfil their potential.
In his remarks, Omolaso Omotosehin, a Reproductive Health specialist with UNFPA, said, “Today, we celebrate the merging of two worlds – entertainment and development aid.
According to him, we leverage on both platforms to raise awareness on the issues that affect women and girls.
“We cannot underestimate the roles celebrities play in development or humanitarian aid.
“Celebrities are crucial in raising discussions on unpopular issues like child marriage, HIV Awareness, condom use, access to family planning and so on.
“They are significant partners in reaching many of the people that can foster change.”
The Regional Director of West and Central Africa, Mabingue Ngom said: “For UNFPA, improving the health and status of women and girls remains a priority, and we will continue to accelerate efforts, by building strategic partnerships to scale-up successful interventions that put young people first, adding that “Our ultimate aim is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”