by Vuyo Mkhize

Gift of life

SA's maternal and infant death statistics are shocking

SA ranked 77 best place to be a mom
Maternal and infant deaths statistics are shocking

One baby dies nearly every hour in South Africa because the country does not have enough skilled health-care workers. According to a recent report, 7 500 babies who are born alive die on their first day - that’s 21 babies every day or almost one an hour.

In addition, 3 000 mothers around the country die every year due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth. These shocking statistics were revealed at the launch of Save the Children SA.

In 2013 State of the World’s Mothers report ranked every country based on analyses of the health, education and economic status of mothers and wellbeing of children to determine the best and worst places in the world to be a mother.

Finland, Sweden and Norway made the top rankings while the Democratic Republic of Congo was ranked bottom of the pile at 176.

South Africa ranked 77 - and while the country has made significant gains in the rolling out of antiretroviral treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, Neven Hendricks, chairman of Save the Children SA, said the report showed there hadn’t been progress in saving lives at the time of birth.

“This country produces some of the best doctors but the rates of these deaths are unacceptable. If this doesn’t spur us into action, nothing else will,” he said.

The burden of baby mortality falls disproportionally on poor and vulnerable communities, Save the Children SA chief executive Pam Innes said.

“Most of the deaths could be prevented by ensuring mothers and babies have access to skilled care, regardless of their social standing. We’re here to help the government and civil society, but mostly the children.”

According to the SA Nursing Council, there was a gradual decline in the number of nurses with specialist qualifications on the register for intensive care, operating theatre, advanced midwifery and psychiatry.

The report indicates the world faces a shortage of 5 million health workers of all types. “And there is an acute shortage of at least 1 million frontline health workers in the developing world, including 350 000 with midwifery skills”.

In addition to insufficient health workers, many of those working weren’t well enough trained, equipped and supported to deliver life-saving maternal and newborn care.

Sub-Saharan African mothers and babies faced the greatest risks in maternal and newborn death rates - the bottom 10 countries on the Mother’s Index are all in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the report, 35 percent of newborn deaths are caused by complications of premature birth, while birth complications and severe infections make up a large percentage of other deaths.

According to the UN, four products could assist in saving newborns - steroid injections for women in pre-term labour (to reduce deaths due to prem babies’ breathing problems), resuscitation devices, chlorhexidine cord cleansing (prevent umbilical cord infections), and injectable antibiotics to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia.

“If all women delivered with a midwife in a facility… providing basic emergency care, it is estimated that 56 percent of maternal, foetal and newborn deaths could be prevented,” the report says.

Noted local singer Tu Nokwe, born in distress in her mother’s bedroom in KwaZulu-Natal, said South Africans needed each other to find practical solutions. “We’re not saying South Africa isn’t doing anything, but 21 babies dying each day is not a joke, it’s a disgrace.”

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