Vice-President Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy has disclosed that the country’s maternal mortality has declined from 1,050 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 730 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001. The Vice-President said this record was registered due to the numerous safe motherhood interventions that were embarked upon.
Vice President Njie-Saidy made these remarks in her speech delivered yesterday in marking World Population Day, which was set aside by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1989. In The Gambia, various activities, including march pass, symposia, drama and information dissemination, have been planned for the day.
She said this year’s theme: Men as partners in maternal health, was chosen to observe the 20th anniversary of Safe Motherhood Initiative. The Vice- President blamed the high maternal mortality on delayed treatment of life threatening complications during pregnancy and delivery; heavy work load and lack of access to appropriate labour - saving devices, particularly during late pregnancy; and low use of modern contraceptive methods. “There is also a high unmet need for Emergency Obstetric Care services (79%). Access to these services is constrained by a poorly functioning EmOC system, especially at the community level, including ill-equipped and inadequate staff facilities. Harmful traditional practices, including early marriage, also contribute to the poor health status of women and children,” she said.
“Until a few years ago,” she continued, “reproductive health was seen as a famine issue, with programmes on reproductive health targeting women. However, today there are increasing calls for male involvement in maternal health. Globally, programmes that foster the concept of male involvement, male responsibility and male participation are gaining ground in helping both men and women to understand the importance of men as full partners in the broad range of issues and experiences that fall under the rubric of reproductive health”.
She indicated that the government has been working with its partners to ensure that every woman has access to three reproductive issues that save women’s lives: These are voluntary family planning, skilled attendance at birth, and emergency obstetric care, if complications arise during delivery. “In fact, in countries where these services are widely available, more mothers and babies are surviving,” she said.
She echoed that the paradigm shift from programmes focusing solely on women towards male involvement in maternal health came as a result of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place in Cairo 1994, as well as the Beijing Women’s Conference that took place in 1995.
The Vice-President, who doubles as the Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs, said the ICPD Programme of Action strongly recommended the need for increased male responsibility in reproduction and child bearing and also demanded for a revisit of discriminatory practices against women. “This was further re-affirmed by the platform of action that emerged from the Beijing Conference. The Gambia was among the 200 countries that committed themselves to addressing issues within the framework of the Beijing platform for action, the ICPD and the other social and sustainable development summits, among others,” she added.
She pointed out that the recently revised National Population Policy 2007-2015 has not only recognised and emphasised the role of men in reproductive health, but also their role in family welfare.
She acknowledged that men can make “tremendous” contributions by using their “power” for positive change, saying “men have power in a wide ranging situations from personal and family decisions to policy and programme decisions taken at all levels of government. By discouraging early marriages, promoting girls’ education, fostering equitable relationships, and supporting women’s reproductive health and rights, progress is made”.
Vice-President Njie-Saidy stressed that time has come for the full involvement of men in maternal health programmes in order not to only enhance the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS but to also foster the attainment of MDGs goal 3 and 5 (promote gender equality and empower women, and improve maternal health respectively). She then urged the Gambian population to participate in the celebrations.