African health ministers pledge action on maternal, infant mortalities

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Sub-Saharan African countries will dedicate additional resources to preventive and curative healthcare services for women, children, and adolescents and shield the vulnerable demographics from avoidable deaths, health ministers said at a virtual forum Wednesday.

Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, Ghana’s minister for Health, said that it was possible to reduce maternal and infant deaths in the continent if governments and donors invested in enhanced disease surveillance, treatment and care.

“We need to invest in a more resilient healthcare service for women, children and adolescents, including sexual and reproductive health in order to ensure they lead quality and productive lives,” said Agyeman-Manu.

He spoke at a virtual summit convened by Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) that explored new strategies to improve the health of women, children and adolescents in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

More than 1,000 delegates including policymakers, campaigners, researchers and funders who participated in the summit noted that COVID-19 pandemic had worsened poor health outcomes for women, children and youth in the continent.

Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo, South Africa’s deputy minister of Health, said that fiscal incentives combined with political goodwill was required to revitalize maternal and infant health agenda in the continent amid pandemic disruptions.

According to Dhlomo, some targeted interventions like improved access to contraceptives, timely immunization, nutrition and social safety nets could have a positive impact on the health of women and their newborns.

Statistics from PMNCH indicate that more than two thirds of global maternal deaths occur in the Sub-Saharan African region, which also accounts for more than half of infant deaths worldwide.

In addition, one in five women in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to modern contraceptives, hence exposing them to unintended pregnancies and deaths linked to unsafe abortions.

Helen Clark, PMNCH Board chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, suggested that African leaders and policy makers should prioritize financing to modernizing healthcare services for women, children and youth, insisting that policy reforms, citizens’ advocacy, investments in quality healthcare, education and nutrition will guarantee African women, children and youth quality livelihoods.

Chrissie Kalamula Kanyasho, Malawian deputy minister for Health, said that African governments should roll out high-impact interventions like free prenatal and maternity services hiring of additional workforce in order to reduce maternal and infant mortalities, adding African countries that have invested in routine immunization, nutrition and family planning services have reported better health outcomes for women, children and youth. Enditem

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