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Maternal health remains Africa's biggest health challenge, WHO report reveals

About 35% of births in Africa are attended to by unskilled midwives.

Lenin Ndebele

LWA/Dann Tardif

  • The ratio of health personnel to patients in Africa is below the world average.

  • About 35% of births in Africa are attended to by unskilled midwives.

  • These skilled staff shortages could worsen as western countries recruit nurses and nurse aids to supplement their health needs, from countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.

Health systems in Africa remain weak and lag far behind other regions of the world; if things do not improve the continent stands a chance of not meeting all its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, particularly maternal health, according to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report.

In a statement, released with the WHO Atlas for Africa 2022 (a report that outlines the continent’s health status), the WHO said inadequate investment in health and funding for health programmes were some of the major drawbacks to meeting the SDG on health.

“For example, a 2022 WHO survey of 47 African countries found that the region has a ratio of 1.55 health workers [physicians, nurses, and midwives] per 1 000 people, below the WHO threshold density of 4.45 health workers per 1 000 people needed to deliver essential health services and achieve universal health coverage,” read the statement.

Due to the low number of health workers, the Atlas report said “65% of births are attended by skilled health personnel – the lowest globally and far off the 2030 target of 90%”.

It could get worse for Africa with the West recruiting nurses and nurse aides to supplement their health needs from countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia.

The continent seeks to reduce neonatal deaths, with death rates higher than the average of 13 fatalities per 100 000 live births observed in Europe in 2017 and more than five times the 2030 SDG target of less than 70 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births.

It exceeds the 211 average for the entire world. At the present rate of decrease, Africa will need to reduce its rates by 86% from 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, to meet this SDG objective.

WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said:

It is crucial that governments make a radical course correction, surmount the challenges, and speed up the pace towards the health goals. These goals aren’t mere milestones, but the very foundations of healthier life and well-being for millions of people.

The region’s progress toward important health goals, like vaccine coverage, is also slowing down, but it had made outstanding strides in other areas throughout the first decade of the 21st century. 

All benchmarks have stagnated in the past 10 years, especially maternal mortality. 

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation

. Source: The News24

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