Investing in Africans’ Health

Africa’s Advances in Maternal, infant Mortality face Setbacks 

ADDIS ABABA – A slowdown in the progress made during the past decade against maternal and infant mortality is projected in the African region, a new World Health Organization (WHO) report finds.

The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022 which assessed the nine targets related to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on health found that at the current pace, increased investment is needed to accelerate progress toward the targets. 

Among the most difficult to achieve will be reducing maternal mortality.

In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that 390 women will die in childbirth for every 100 000 live births by 2030, the Atlas 2022 reports. 

This is more than five times above the 2030 SDG target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births, and more than the global average of 211. 

To reach the SDG target, Africa will need an 86% reduction from 2017 rates, the last time data was reported, an unrealistic feat at the current rate of decline.

The region’s infant mortality rate also stands at 72 per 1000 live births. 

At the current 3.1% annual rate of decline, there will be an expected 54 deaths per 1000 live births by 2030, far above the reduction target of fewer than 25 per 1000.

“Africa has scored some of the fastest reduction rates globally in key health objectives, but the momentum is waning. This means that for many African women, childbirth remains a persistent risk and millions of children do not live long enough to celebrate their fifth birthday,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

“It is crucial that governments make a radical course correction, surmount the challenges, and speed up the pace towards the health goals. These goals aren’t mere milestones, but the very foundations of a healthier life and well-being for millions of people.”

Although the region is witnessing a decelerating momentum towards key health objectives such as vaccine coverage, it has made remarkable progress in some areas during the first decade of the 21st century. 

Under-5 mortality fell by 35%; neonatal death rates dropped by 21%, and maternal mortality declined by 28%, according to the Atlas report. 

Despite progress in family planning, with 56.3% of women of reproductive age (15-49) having their family planning needs satisfied with modern contraceptive methods in 2020, the region is still far below the global average of 77% and the worst performing.

The slowdown has been exacerbated by the disruptive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crucial health services such as postnatal care for women and newborns, neonatal intensive care units, and antenatal care services, immunization services were disrupted during the pandemic, says the WHO. 

Africa has also faced a resurgence in vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the past year. Measles cases rose by 400% between January and March 2022 compared with the same period the year before.

Inadequate investment in health and funding for health programs are some of the major drawbacks to meeting the SDG on health. 

Nearly 65% of births in Africa are attended by skilled health personnel – the lowest globally and far off the 2030 target of 90%, according to the Atlas 2022.