Being an Expectant Woman in Rural Africa

Maternal health, the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period, is a major concern for rural Africa. Women in rural areas face unprecedented challenges and lack of proper health services has led to maternal deaths as a result of complications during and after giving birth. Uncontrolled blood pressure, excessive bleeding, gestational diabetes and severe contractions are some of the difficulties pregnant women endure.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth with 99% of all maternal deaths occurring in developing countries. Out of these, over 50% of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. There are several challenges that render giving birth in sub-Saharan Africa fatal.

The challenges  

Poverty and lack of education is a major challenge. Most women in rural Africa are not aware of what they ought to be doing during the course of their pregnancy. They have no clue when they are supposed to visit a health professional leading to delays in care seeking. The World Health Organization recommends at least four antenatal visits during pregnancy to ensure the wellbeing of both the mother and the child. Care during the first few days and weeks following delivery is critical to the survival of both mother and child. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of births in rural areas are attended by trained healthcare professionals.

Another challenge rural women face during pregnancy is the distance from health care centers. Lack of proper infrastructure and transport networks makes much needed health services inaccessible to many expectant mothers. Distance from health centres is made worse by the fact that most health facilities located in rural areas are not well equipped. They only have necessities and are equipped only for basic treatment and education. Their inability to take care of complicated issues can be a disincentive for women in rural areas to even try seeking care during pregnancy.

The primary cause of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa is complications during pregnancy and following childbirth. Major complications include high blood pressure, severe bleeding, infections and complications from delivery. There are a couple of solutions to alleviate the challenges faced by expectant mothers in rural Africa and around the world. “Leaving no one behind” was the dominant theme for the United Nation’s Standard Development Goals (SDGs).  SDG3 ; Good Health and Well-Being seeks to reduce the global maternal mortality rate.

How to address the challenges

One of the ways to tackle maternal mortality in rural areas is by acknowledging the importance of the community and the involvement of traditional midwives. Training traditional health attendants and making them part of the local health services will go a long way in reducing deaths resulting from pregnancy complications. Education is also of chief importance. Providing better education for women and other community members living in rural areas regarding pregnancy and maternal health is vital. Investments in developing basic rural infrastructure including transport and communication networks and making sure health care facilities are properly equipped will encourage more women to seek professional assistance during and after childbirth. Health facilities have to be properly distributed in rural areas to ensure pregnant women receive the care they need and also increase the percentage of birth overseen by professional health attendants. Over 75% of live births in urban areas are attended by trained healthcare professionals.

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