Maternal Mortality in Cameroon: An Urgent Need for Action
Maternal mortality continues to escalate in most African countries and the target to reduce maternal deaths and ensure universal access to family planning services is far from being met. Cameroon is no exception; according to different national demographic and health surveys, even with the rising prevalence of modern contraception, maternal mortality has increased over the years with 430 per 100,000 live births in 1991 to 430 in 1998, 669 in 2004, and 782 in 2011. Despite relatively high number of women who show up for antenatal check-ups in Cameroon, there is an ever-increasing maternal mortality ratio and pregnancy outcomes remain inadequate.
For more than 30 years now, the focus for women’s health in middle-income countries has been on cutbacks in maternal mortality. This was reinforced by the choice of the maternal mortality ratio as the primary indicator for women's health in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were developed in 2000 with a focus on addressing health-related and socio-economic inequities in areas such as education, poverty, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, and infectious diseases. In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted, a set of targets ranging from protecting the planet, ending poverty and ensuring prosperity for all.
Cameroon is ranked 18th among the 20 countries in the world with second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world. Many poor women and girls in Cameroon experience difficulties accessing quality health care service. Maternal health is a human right and no woman should be deprived of this right.
Recently in Cameroon, a young woman named Monique Komate died in front of a health facility because she could not afford her medical bills to save her unborn twins.
This incident has sparked national outrage. Demonstrators carried signs reading “Never forget Monique Koumate.” There is no excuse for this act and it is impossible to think of Ms. Monique Koumate’s death as a mere medical accident. Denying care to pregnant women because they cannot afford their medical bills may contribute to increasing maternal deaths in Cameroon, which now stands at 690 deaths per 100,000 live births, is an unjust human rights violation.
Cameroon has a shortage of medical professionals, with fewer than two doctors for every 10,000 people with health treatments often provided by nurses. The Cameroonian government only allocates six percent of its state budget to health care, which is rather low for a country with 23.6 million inhabitants. The fee-based system which was introduced in Cameroonian hospitals allows medical facilities to charge fees for treatments and services which has led to many deaths due to lack of medical care when patients are unable to pay for services. All these and the many other forms of injustices women suffer can all end if the government commits willfully to investing in women’s reproductive health.
The government misses the point on this issue, especially when it comes to investment in women’s health and needs. Cameroon could not achieve most of the MDGs; instead of maternal mortality rate dropping; it significantly increased from 600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008 to 690 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010.
The Cameroonian government can make a substantial difference for the people of Cameroon by bridging the gaps in health care education through research and providing quality health care training of the highest professional, academic, and clinical standards in an atmosphere that shares knowledge to promote health development. Community extension workers should be trained and provided with clean birth kits in order to save more women and children. In order to reduce maternal mortality, prevention and treatment policies that provide health, education, and nutrition services to women should be at the top of the agenda and priority should be placed on research. Increased access to family planning, better accessibility to maternity services, improvement of health systems, increased antenatal care coverage, and skilled care during childbirth is vital to reducing and perhaps one day preventing maternal mortality in Cameroon.
Nehsuh Carine Alongifor is a feminist-activist working to improve the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls in her community. She is a Women Deliver Young Leader and was named one of the top 200 young leaders in the world by Women Deliver in 2015. She advocates for schools to eliminate gender-based violence, educates and encourages young women to assume roles of leadership, develop mentoring programs and conducts wide range confrontations with young Cameroonian youth from all works of life. She is a North South Centre Scholarship recipient for the course "Global Education - The Intercultural Dimension”. She hopes to scale up existing programs, engage World Leaders in the response to maternal health, and follow up commitments on maternal health with actions to hold policymakers accountable. She tweets at @CNehsuh.