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At a glance: Niger

Mothers in Niger ensure health of their babies by caring for their own

© UNICEF video
Aminatou Moukaila receives free pre-natal check-up at the Madina Integrated Health Centre in Niamey, Niger.

By Guy Degan

This year, UNICEF’s flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children’ – to be launched on 15 January – addresses the need to close one of the greatest health divides between industrialized and developing countries: maternal mortality. Here is one in a series of related stories.

NIAMEY, Niger, 9 January 2009 – Aminatou Moukaila, eight months pregnant with her second child, came to the Madina Integrated Health Centre in Niamey for a regular check-up.  She's one of thousands of women now benefiting from the recent introduction of free pre-natal health care in Niger – a country where the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world and the child mortality rate is among the highest, and where the average woman gives birth to seven children.

With less than 50 percent of pregnant women in Niger receiving some anti-natal health services, UNICEF is working with the government to boost the availability and quality of maternal health care – especially in rural areas – and train more health workers to ensure safe deliveries, respond to obstetrical emergencies and provide adequate care for the newborn.

Promoting attendant births
Delivering a child at home is a deeply entrenched tradition among Nigerien women. This socio-cultural factor is often reinforced by the distance to the health centres, the low performance of health services, and a general lack of knowledge about the benefits of attended deliveries.

Only a third of expectant mothers either deliver at a hospital, health post or with the help of a trained midwife at home. And many who actually come to health facilities do so as a last resort, in case of complication, often when it is too late.

To avert maternal and child deaths, UNICEF-supported maternal health centres are working to raise the awareness of women to not only use pre-natal services but also seek expert help for delivery.

"We have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The infant mortality rate is also high,” says UNICEF HIV/AIDS and Maternal and Newborn Health Specialist Dr. Marie-Claire Mutanda. “So when mothers use these services they can be assisted whenever emergencies occur as most obstetrical emergencies occur during delivery time.”

Benefits of antenatal care
With support from UNICEF, each pregnant woman attending antenatal clinics is provided with an insecticide-treated bed net, essential medicine and vaccines to prevent malaria and tetanus, and vitamins and micronutrients to promote a healthy and risk-free pregnancy.

© UNICEF video
Pregnant women attending pre-natal clinics are provided with an insecticide-treated bed net, essential medicine and vaccines to prevent malaria and tetanus, and vitamin and micronutrients.

Pregnant women are also counselled on the importance of  HIV screening to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

"The advice I give to my friends is to go to the pre-natal specialists because it's good to be sure of the health of your baby. If you don't, you run the risk of complications and losing the baby," says Aminatou Moukaila, a mother at the Madina Integrated Health Centre in Niamey.

Door-to-door support
In the Maradi region of southern Niger, health workers travel to remote villages to monitor the health of newborns and attend to women’s post-natal needs.  The health workers advise mothers to use safe clean water, treat diarrhoea and adopt the practice of exclusive breastfeeding.

Other information campaigns focus on the risk of closely-spaced pregnancies and very early pregnancies. These actions will assist the mothers of Niger to give birth safely to a healthier generation of children.




UNICEF correspondent Guy Degan reports on the successes of free pre-natal care in Niger.
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