Maternal Health in Nigeria

With Leadership, Progress is Possible

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target date of 2015 approaches, there is a growing sense of urgency among international agencies to intensify efforts on the global challenge of maternal health, where, according to the 2012 MDG progress report, levels of maternal mortality remain “far from the 2015 target.” In 2012, both the G-8 and the African Union made maternal and child health a keystone of their respective annual summits, and the United Nations launched the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health at a special General Assembly event. In achieving the MDG target of reducing global maternal mortality by 75 percent, progress in Nigeria could prove pivotal. In 2010, an estimated 40,000 Nigerian women died in childbirth; the country accounts for an estimated 14 percent of maternal deaths worldwide; and Nigeria remains 1 of the 10 most dangerous countries in the world for a woman to give birth, with 630 of every 100,000 live births result in a maternal death. But despite the bleak national statistics, there are some signs of growing opportunity in Nigeria. In the last five years, the federal government has devoted far greater policy attention and resources to maternal health than previously, and a handful of state governments are beginning to tackle the challenge in a strategic and comprehensive way.

In August 2012, CSIS Africa Program staff traveled to Nigeria to conduct a series of interviews with government officials, implementing agencies, and health professionals to better understand the country’s national strategy on maternal health and the obstacles that are slowing progress. The aim was to get a sense of challenges at the state and local government level, to determine where responsibility lies for primary health care, and to identify instances where real progress is being made. Successful models can serve as an encouragement to policymakers and health implementers elsewhere and can offer practical examples of what is possible with local innovation, leadership, and planning. Perhaps most important is to create an expectation among citizens, communities, and civil society that in turn strengthens constituencies for maternal health and more broadly for service delivery and governance. The purpose of this report is to highlight one such successful effort, which warrants encouragement and bears watching, as Nigeria, the United States, and the broader global community seek more effective and innovative approaches to the challenge of maternal mortality.

Farha Tahir