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Africa’s progress on maternal and child mortality is in decline, says WHO report

Brazzaville – According to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) released today, a slowdown in the progress made over the past decade in the fight against maternal and child mortality is projected in the African Region.


The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022 has assessed the nine targets related to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for health and notes that at the current rate of progress, increased investments are needed to accelerate results towards achievement of these targets. Reducing maternal mortality is one of the most difficult to achieve.


In sub-Saharan Africa, according to the 2022 Atlas, an estimated 390 women will die in childbirth for every 100,000 live births by 2030. This estimate is five times higher than the SDG target set for 2030, which is to make reduce the global maternal mortality rate below 70 deaths per 100,000 live births. It is also very far from the average of 13 deaths per 100,000 live births observed in Europe in 2017. This is more than the world average of 211.


In order to achieve the target of the Sustainable Development Goals, Africa will have to reduce its rates by 86% compared to the situation that prevailed in 2017, the date of the last data report, which is an unrealistic achievement considering the decline currently observed.


The infant mortality rate in the Region stands at 72 deaths per 1000 live births. At the annual rate of decline of 3.1%, we expect a scenario of 54 deaths per 1000 live births by 2030, which is well above the reduction target which is set below 25 deaths per 1000 live births.


“Africa has recorded some of the fastest rates of reduction in the world for key health goals, but the momentum appears to be weakening. For many African women, this means childbirth remains a persistent risk and millions of children do not live long enough to celebrate their fifth birthday,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “It is essential that governments make a step change, rise to the challenges and pick up the pace to achieve the health goals. These goals are not mere steps, but the very foundations of healthier lives and well-being for millions of people,” added the Regional Director.


Although the Region is experiencing a slowdown in achieving major health-related goals such as immunization coverage, it has made remarkable progress in some areas during the first decade of the 21st century. Under-five mortality fell by 35%, the neonatal mortality rate fell by 21% and maternal mortality fell by 28%.


Over the past decade, progress on all three targets has stagnated, particularly on maternal mortality. In fact, Africa has made progress in family planning as 56.3% of women of reproductive age (aged 15-49) met their family planning needs with methods modern contraceptives in 2020. However, the Region remains far from the world average which stands at 77% and remains the least efficient in terms of family planning.


This slowdown was exacerbated by the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Essential health services such as postnatal care for women and newborns, neonatal intensive care units and antenatal care services have been disrupted during the pandemic, as have immunization services. Since 2021, Africa has also faced an upsurge in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Measles cases increased by 400% between January and March 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.


Insufficient investment in health and funding for its programs is one of the main obstacles to achieving the health-related SDGs. For example, a survey conducted by WHO in 2022 in 47 African countries revealed that the Region has 1.55 health workers (doctors, nurses and midwives combined) per 1000 inhabitants, a ratio below the threshold of density of 4.45 health workers per 1000 population needed to provide essential health services and achieve Universal Health Coverage.


In the African Region, 65% of births are attended by skilled health personnel – the lowest rate in the world and well below the target of 90% for 2030 , according to the Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022. Skilled birth attendants are essential for the well-being of women and newborns. Neonatal deaths account for nearly half of under-five child mortality. Accelerating efforts to achieve the reduction target will be a major step towards reducing the under-five mortality rate to below 25 deaths per 1,000 live births.


The Atlas of African Health Statistics 2022 also presents the latest data on more than 50 health-related SDG indicators, and provides comprehensive statistics on countries in the Region.


WHO today held a press conference led by Dr Humphrey Karamagi, Senior Technical Officer, Health Systems Development, WHO Regional Office for Africa. He was accompanied by Dr Benjamin Tsofa, Principal Research Fellow at the Kenya Institute of Medical Research.


Also present to answer questions were experts from the WHO Regional Office for Africa: Dr Fiona Braka, Team Leader, Emergency Operations, Dr Fank Lule, HIV Treatment and Care Specialist/ AIDS, and Dr Serge Bataliack, responsible for strategic health information.



Source: World Health Organization

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