Spotlight on healthy moms

The maternal mortality ratio is on the increase, with 70 women dying in Namibia last year.

26 July 2019 | Health

Fatalities linked to pregnancy or childbirth remains a grave concern among Namibian health specialists who this week convened to launch the first Namibia Women's Health conference.

The two-day conference held in Windhoek on Wednesday and Thursday put the spotlight on the health of mothers-to-be and new mums in a joint initiative hosted by the University of Namibia's obstetrics and gynaecology department.

Talking points and panel discussions focused on topics ranging from maternal deaths in Namibia to medical complications during and after pregnancy, including hypertension and sepsis, in addition to topics linked to contraception, abortion, cervical cancer, and mental health of pregnant or post-birth women.

At the opening of the landmark conference, Kornelia Shilunga, deputy minister of mines and energy, highlighted grave concerns about maternal deaths in Namibia.

“The maternal mortality ratio is on the increase, indeed 70 women died in Namibia last year alone,” she told participants.

Another worry is the vulnerability of pregnant women with HIV.

Shilunga said while Namibia has made significant progress in tackling the virus, the country has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, with 19% of pregnant women between the ages of 15 to 49 estimated to be infected.

The health ministry has confirmed that HIV / Aids remains the leading indirect cause of maternal mortality in health facilities, accounting for 37% of total mortality.

HIV constitutes a serious reproductive health challenge, she said.

Nevertheless, she also praised efforts to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV, highlighting that Namibia is globally recognised as one of the first African countries close to eliminate mother-to-child transmissions.

Another concern is that spending on maternal, child and adolescent health is declining and emergency obstetric care cover is “very low and inequitable”, Shilunga said.

Mental health among pregnant women and those who have given birth is another issue.

Globally, about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental health issue, primarily depression.

In developing countries such as Namibia, the numbers are higher, with an estimated 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after birth.

In severe cases, postnatal depression can lead to suicide, which in turn impacts the health of children and their development.

Shilunga underlined that globally “maternal mental health problems are considered as a major public health challenge”, urging Namibia to provide broader space for maternal mental health on the country's agenda.

She said the conference was a firm step towards committing to improve the quality of care provided to Namibian women.

In a statement released by the conference hosts this week, they stressed the main aim of the conference is to “address Namibia's high maternal mortality and morbidity.”

The participant target audience consisted of doctors and nurses from state facilities, with the conference streamed to all district hospitals in Namibia to boost participation and knowledge sharing.

The conference also provided participants with the findings of the country's national maternal death review as well as the findings of a national severe morbidity registration.

In addition to local experts, numerous international experts, including from South Africa and Rwanda attended the event to share their experiences and to explore what Namibia can learn from their solutions.



JANA-MARI SMITH

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