Addressing the high maternal and child mortality rate in the country through a human rights approach will go a long way in tackling the problem, an expert, Dr. Uchenna Emelonye, has advised.
Emelonye who is a high ranking Nigerian official in the United Nations Human Rights system and visiting professor of human rights law at several European universities, recommended that what was hitherto referred to as maternal and child health services in Nigeria should be rebranded into a cluster of enforceable human rights.
He said safe motherhood is an inherent component of right to life, and that human rights should be the concern of those involved in the birthing process.
According to him, a human rights based approach to preventing maternal and child mortality will ensure safe motherhood and improve health outcomes by diminishing unjust power relations between men and women that result in preventable deaths
He said it would empower women and girls as right holders to claim their rights and transform them from passive targets of health plans and policies to active claimants of right to health.
He added that the approach would make government ensure that maternal and child health planning and delivery were shaped by normative principles of participation, equality, nondiscrimination and accountability.
He said: “I am responding to you in my personal capacity as a Nigerian and do not purport to speak for the United Nations. Having said that, I want to statistically present the maternal and child mortality epidemic before us as a nation.
“Nigeria shares the second highest maternal and child mortality burdens in the world. It is estimated that approximately one million children die every year in Nigeria from preventable deaths, about a quarter of a million women and girls die every year from pregnancy and childbirth related complications and over 2 million women and girls suffer life-changing disabilities every year as a result of birthing glitches,” Emelonye, who also has decades experience in human rights and rule of law across four continents and 22 countries, said.
He said the worrisome maternal and child mortality statistics becomes more disturbing if disaggregated to rural settings or pinpointed to some states of the federation. “It is depressing that despite advances in medical and health sciences, becoming pregnant in Nigeria is one of the most dangerous experiences of an average woman and girl,” he said.
“Yes it may be health related, but the women, girls and children represented in the sordid statistics are human beings entitled to human rights. Whereas the triggers of high maternal and child mortality in Nigeria are mostly health related and preventable by appropriate obstetric interventions, the paradigm shift is the realization that health and medical interventions alone are not be self-sufficient to combat maternal and child mortality in Nigeria. Maternal and child mortality in Nigeria is not only a public health necessity, it is also a human rights imperative.”
On the way forward, he said “My proposition is non-medical and non-pharmacological. I propose that a human rights based approach to combating maternal and child mortality be adopted in Nigeria so as to guarantee to every women, girl and children the inalienable enjoyment of the full range of their human rights.
“As a signatory to core international human rights instruments and in the context of maternal and child mortality, all tiers of government in Nigeria are obligated to facilitate the enjoyment of right to life of women, girls and children, particularly in the birthing process. Maternal and child mortality in Nigeria are not unavoidable natural hazards of pregnancy, they are man-made and preventable if a human right-based approach is adopted.”
He said it was no longer acceptable that maternal and child mortality are inevitable risks, noting that they are man or woman made actions or inactions for which somebody or an institution should be accountable and for which government, as the duty bearer, shoulders ultimate responsibility.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that high maternal and child mortality is an offshoot of prevailing gender inequality and chronological discrimination against women and girls in Nigeria.
“Whereas the generality of Nigerians are affected in a significant way by the weak health care system in the country, it is also self-evident that the impact is heavier on women and girls owing to the fact that human reproduction takes place in their bodies.