This blog post was contributed by Ifeyinwa Egwaoje Madu, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
“Do all you can to make this dream come true, but one thing you must not do, despite challenges, is NEVER GIVE UP!” This was said to me by Andrea Irvin in 1997. Andrea then was with the International Women’s Health Coalition and had come to witness the first graduation ceremony of Girls’ Power Initiative, an organization where I had gone through a three-year training program on adolescent reproductive health and gender development. That day I was excited and enthusiastic. I was eager to give to other women what I had benefitted so much from, so I made my intentions known to Grace Osakue and Andrea Irvin in a meeting after the graduation ceremony and what Andrea said to me has stuck with me for so long.
Speaking of challenges, for some reason I had to do some research on maternal health in Nigeria this January. The figures I came across are disheartening and shows the enormity of challenges that I am going back home to tackle after my nine month internship as a Young Champion. Nigeria is only 2% of the world’s population yet accounts for 10% of maternal deaths from childbirth. An estimated 500,000 women die each year throughout the world from complications of pregnancy and childbirth and 55,000 of these deaths occur in Nigeria. Every day 144 women die from childbirth. Nigeria ranks second to India globally in number of maternal deaths and for every woman who dies from childbirth, another 30 suffer from chronic long-term ill health. Some of the major contributing factors are access to skilled health personnel during pregnancy and childbirth and delay in getting to health facilities when complications arise from pregnancy.
In the last week, I have had to compare the United States maternal health system with the one we have in Nigeria. The gap is huge. Here in the United States there are well-equipped health facilities that have been made accessible through the Medicaid program to women who ordinarily would not have been able to afford it. But back home my sisters, cousins, neighbors and friends die on a regular basis for lack of access to skilled health care during pregnancy and childbirth. But the reality is that the health needs of a woman are the same everywhere.
With the realization that at the end of today 144 women would have died from childbirth in Nigeria, I have resolved this year to do everything within my means as a woman, as a Nigerian and as a Young Champion to bring my idea of providing prenatal home-based care to Nigerian women to reality. I will never give up despite the challenges that I might come across. I might seem like a lone voice, but I know that if I cry long enough and loud enough, change will definitely come someday for my Nigerian sisters.