Low maternal, infant mortality a priority for health minister

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WINDHOEK – One of the priorities on the agenda of the new Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernard Haufiku, is to half the current maternal and infant mortality rates come 2018.

“The well being of mothers and children is my main concern, it’s a burning issue. It’s the reason why we are rated so low with many indicators. I want us to bring it down,” Haufiku told reporters on Saturday on the sidelines of the second annual general meeting of the Namibia Medical Society (NMS).

Despite making strides in the health sector, Namibia will not meet the Millennium Development Goal 4, which is aimed at reducing child mortality and Goal 5, which is aimed at improving maternal health.

Data from the 2013 Namibia Demographic Health Survey, show that neonatal mortality declined by 20 percent over the 15-year period preceding the survey, from 25 to 20 deaths per 1 000 live births.

The corresponding declines in post- and neonatal, infant, and under-5 mortality over the 15-year period were 17 percent, 19 percent, and 18 percent.

However, the data show that there has not been a significant decline in neonatal and infant mortality since 2000. Neonatal mortality remained at 20 deaths per 1000 live births during 1995-1999 and 2008-2012.

Similarly, infant mortality was 38 deaths per 1 000 live births in 1995-1999 and 39 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2008-2012. On the other hand, under-5 mortality declined from 62 to 54 deaths per 1 000 live births during the same time period, the report indicates.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over 88 percent of mothers now deliver at health facilities.

Haufiku stressed the need to build maternity shelters near hospitals where expecting women living in remote areas can wait.

“If mothers stay near the hospital for the last 20 to 10 days before delivery they do better than those who just walk in to deliver,” said Haufiku.

He urged the business community to help government build shelters to accommodate expectant mothers, who travel long distances to hospitals. “We need to put up shelters for mothers so that when they deliver they are on time,” said Haufiku.

“We need to increase the competence of doctors to be able to do caesarean section and to strengthen our system. An ambulance must not take long to take a person from one point to the next,” he said.

Haufiku also stressed the need to educate people on sexual reproductive health and family planning.

“Teenagers must know when to decide to make a baby or not. They must have access to youth-friendly services where they empower themselves with skills and knowledge about reproduction,” said Haufiku.

Teenagers who fall pregnant should be educated to ascertain “both the mother and her baby are fine”, added Haufiku.

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