From a distressing figure of an average of thirty-six under age five deaths recorded since 2009, officials and community members of Aowin-Suaman District of the Western Region battled to record zero child mortality in the first half of 2012.
Infant death dropped from 22 in 2009 to none in 2012 while no maternal death case had been recorded this year. Besides, the general health condition of people in the district improved significantly, thanks to a local initiative called Men on Board for Healthier Families started by the local district health authorities in 2009.
A working visit and fact finding mission from Tamale in the Northern Region to Enchi in the Aowin-Suaman District reinforced the old adage ‘travel and see’.
I was at the Hospital for a briefing on the health status of the district early morning and to my surprise and admiration I saw some men with wrapped babies at their backs whiles others were holding their babies hands and cuddling expectant mothers.
With a warm smile, I chanced upon Johnifred Kwesi Amoako Balinsford, 40, and father of three, who had brought his nine months old son for a routine check-up in the hospital.
He told me: “I love my children and my wife so I make it a priority to ensure that they are always healthy…I save a lot of money by getting myself involved in their healthcare”.
Mr Balinsford disclosed that since he recognized the importance of the involvement of men in the healthcare of their families, he had helped other communities in the district to form men associations to benefit from the initiative.
Mr Thomas Adansi, 29, father of an eight month old Beatrice Abena Adansi said he became a laughing stock when he started accompanying his wife to antenatal but now seen as a role model in the Enchi township.
“The bond between my daughter and I continue to grow daily as I take her to the hospital for weighing”, he said.
He explained that “The education the nurses give the men group has helped me to understand the conditions of a pregnant woman and how to assist her in times of difficulty. I make sure she follows her diet and help her to do regular exercise like walking with her for short distances and encouraging her to practice exclusive breastfeeding.”
Pieces of information gathered by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) from some districts in the Central and Western Regions indicated that many lives of mothers and babies have been saved with the involvement of men in health promotion, especially in maternal and child care.
Mr Emmanuel Kofi Tamakloe, District Director of Health Service, Aowin Suaman District in the Western Region, said before the initiative, people preferred home delivery to delivering at the health facility but the phenomenon had changed.
“We were also battling with issues relating to non-attendance of Antenatal Clinic (ANC), excessive use of herbal preparations, malaria and malnutrition but all these challenges have subsided,” he said.
Madam Helen Tabiri, Disease Control Officer of the Mfantsiman district, also confirmed that due to the involvement of men in health issues and other initiatives, the area had not recorded any maternal death as at October, 2012.
Maternal mortality continues to be a global challenge as statistics from the United Nations indicates that each year, more than 350,000 women in the developing world aged 15-49 die of pregnancy and child-birth related complications. About 2.6 million children are stillborn, and a further 8.1 million die before their fifth birthday, including 3.3 million babies in the first month of life.
Asia and sub-saharan Africa accounts for 87% (313,000) of global maternal deaths. A woman’s lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy is 1 in 3700 in North America as compared to 1 in 16 in Africa according to World Health Organisation.
Ghana is lagging behind in attaining the Millennium Development Goals four and five. This target is aimed at reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
A recent Ghana Health Service (GHS) report shows that the country recorded 1,022 maternal deaths in 2011, representing 173 deaths per 100,000 live births which is an increase from 166 per 100,000 live births in 2010.
Despite the drop from 540 per 100 000 live births in 2000 to 173 per 100 000 live births in 2011, Ghana is unlikely to attain MDG 5 by three quarters by 2015.
Hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, eclampsia and complications of unsafe abortions were among the causes of the deaths, and still births, which accounted for two per cent of all births, were also recorded in 2011.
The report also indicated that while antenatal care was nearing universal coverage, skilled attendance at delivery, post-natal care, nutrition services, including breastfeeding, appropriate complimentary feeding for infants and young children, appropriate nutrition, particularly for pregnant women and children needed to be addressed.
Dr Mrs Gloria Quansah Asare, Director, Family Health Division, disclosed to Journalists in Koforidua that in tackling the challenges, an MDG Accelerated Framework, Country Action Plan and a Nationwide Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care assessment had been carried out to identify priority areas and gaps that needed to be addressed in skilled attendance at delivery, emergency obstetric and newborn care as well as other cross cutting issues.
She noted that despite intensified efforts in many areas, maternal mortality remained a challenge due to several factors such as poor health status indicators, utilization and coverage services, inadequate human resources and infrastructure and referral systems.
At the last regional media encounter, Dr Akwesi Twumasi, Northern Regional Health Director, disclosed that maternal mortality in Northern Region might linger due to the bad nature of roads in the region, inadequate health care facilities, equipment, personnel, poverty and most especially, socio-cultural beliefs and practices.
He said the region recorded 112, 111, 97 and 131 maternal deaths in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 in that order, adding that the figure might increase in 2012 if the two key challenges of socio-cultural practice and the road network were not addressed.
“Majority of the deaths are due to excessive bleeding as a result of late arrival of patients…the roads are bad, cars do not ply on these routes and the ambulances also spend long hours struggling on the difficult terrain to get to referral health facilities.
“It is culturally acceptable for most men to ask their wives to go to their mothers in the village to give birth without thinking about the woman’s inability to access quality health care and may risk losing her life in case of complications.”
Again, Dr Twumasi reminded men to give special attention to women who are pregnant “because they are the same people you lust for when they are not pregnant and are in short skirts”.
Mr Kofi Tamakloe the Aowin Suaman District Health Director believed that men would assist in the health care of their families if their attitudes are changed and were better educated on how their support could save money and ensure the good health of their families.
“The male involvement in maternal and child health towards healthier families is a simple and cost-free initiative for quick attainment of the MDGs in Ghana…the initiative is on-going and we are enrolling more men,” he added.
Mr Tamakloe was confident that the nation could achieve the MDG target on maternal and infant health if the challenge of lack of skilled staff, logistics, good roads and the involvement of men in health issues were addressed.
“As we began the formation of father support groups in the cities, towns and villages to enable these groups to receive guidance and education on how to support their wives, it will be enough to achieve the MDG goals four and five”, he said.
Perhaps, health authorities, metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives as well as civil societies working toward reducing maternal deaths in Ashanti and especially the three Northern Regions that record high maternal deaths should adopt and localise the initiative of Aowin-Suaman.
Just as the former First Lady, Mrs Ernestina Naadu Mills made a call on stakeholders at the launch of the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) to pursue more innovative ideas so that “together we can save our women from dying while giving life”.
No person giving life should die, every pregnancy counts: We need all hands on deck.