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Creating a supportive environment for mothers and newborns in Niger

Niger is addressing the many challenges to maternal health and fighting the odds to create a supportive environment for mothers and newborns.

In this landlocked Sahelian country, maternal mortality is intricately linked with traditions and the unfavorable status of women, and there is a wide gap between men and women in terms of education, literacy and, correspondingly, health.

Niger’s literacy gap between adult men and women is one of the highest reported one in the world. The opportunity for education abruptly comes to an end for many girls who marry early – sometimes as young as nine years old.  Early marriage usually leads to early motherhood. Niger has world’s highest incidence of early marriage: 75 per cent of women aged 20-24 were married before they were 18 years old.

Against this background, high fertility rates, limited access to reproductive health care, inadequate nutrition and lack of birth spacing render Niger one of the riskiest places in the world to have a baby. Niger’s lifetime risk for women of dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications – one in seven – is the highest in the world. While nearly half of all women do receive some kind of antenatal care, only a third of them have a skilled attendant present when they deliver.

The challenges facing Niger are daunting, yet there are signs of progress.  Last October, Niger’s Government launched a communications campaign to educate the public about the importance of sending girls to school.  This one-year campaign – a joint effort including support from UNICEF as well as local and international partners – will reach out to rural and urban centers throughout the country.

Partners in Niger are also joining forces to support the Government in improving access to effective antenatal care during pregnancy and to skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care. UNICEF, in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA) assists the Government of Niger in developing guidelines, protocols and training materials on effective antenatal care.

In 2008, UNICEF supplied more than 400,000 antenatal kits distributed to over 400 health structures throughout the country. To date over 250 doctors, midwives and nurses have been trained in Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care. Moreover, UNICEF has supplied 400 midwifery delivery kits to maternity and labour wards throughout the country. UNICEF also supplied 150 emergency obstetric kits to 23 hospitals.

In addition, as part of its approach to promote comprehensive community-based maternal and neonatal care, since 2006, UNICEF has also trained over 600 traditional birth attendants across the country who provide assistance before and during pregnancy and educate women about pregnancy danger signs, the importance of birth spacing, and essential care for newborns. Finally, in 2006 the Nigerian Government made a great step forward with the introduction of free health care for pregnant women and children under five years of age.

Niger’s achievement reducing under-five mortality levels offers hope that it can achieve similar success in cutting maternal mortality rates. Between 1990 and 2007, Niger’s under-five mortality rate dropped by 42 per cent, one of the largest reductions throughout Africa.



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