Studies have shown that empowering women, both in education and the economics, would go a long way to help them make informed choices and further eradicate extreme poverty.
According to Mrs. Virginia Ofosu-Amaah, chairperson of the National Population Council, at a workshop in Accra on Tuesday, women empowerment was the way forward towards the elimination of most of the current health challenges including high rate of maternal mortality and neo-natal deaths.
She said worrying statistics revealed at the just ended health summit in Accra about maternal mortality and neo-natal deaths led to the declaration of mortality as a national emergency which needed urgent redress to ensure a downward trend.
The workshop, which was organised by the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs (MOWAC), under the theme: “Reducing Maternal Mortality; The Impact of Government Policy on Free Deliveries and the Way Forward,” was a follow-up to a previous one on safe motherhood held earlier this month in London.
Mrs. Ofosu-Amaah said most of the health programmes had failed to achieve results because they did not attract the targeted group and therefore called for different approaches in ensuring the attainment of the needed results.
“An increase of the total rate in maternal deaths from 954 per 1,000 live births in 2001 to over 1,023 per 1,000 live births by 2007 is frightening and needed urgent measures to address the causes,” she said.
Mrs. Ofosu-Amaah mentioned programmes such as family planning, which she said, was doing well, until the focus on funding and attention shifted to HIV/AIDS, saying this had led to the closure of most centres due to lack of funds to run them.
“These family planning centres played major roles in educating women in making informed choices about their reproductive health so as to prevent unwanted pregnancies, reduce infant and child mortality and promote good nutrition among women and children.”
She said meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) four and five which stressed on reducing under-five mortality and maternal mortality by three-quarters by the year 2015, may be elusive if Ghana continued to run programmes the way they were now.
“We must make efforts to change our attitudes towards the way policies and programmes are being run to ensure positive results,” she said.
She commended government for access to free delivery services by securing a UK funding to ensure effective support of the programme, but called for an upgrade of health infrastructure, increased staff and allocation of enough funds to health institutions.
Mrs Ofosu-Amaah called for maximum commitment on the part of all stakeholders as well as policy implementers to ensure change in the way programmes were managed.
She said there was also the need to increase and release funding for a number of programmes such as family planning programmes which were very important source of information to women in terms of making informed choices about their reproductive health.
She said though Ghana had numerous interventions aimed at improving the health of women and children, the need to re-double efforts was urgent to ensure the attainment of the set goal.
According to Mrs Gladys Brew, Policy Planning Monitoring and Evaluation, Ghana Health Service (GHS), said without proper education most women in the rural setting would continue to make the same mistakes, leading to a reverse of all efforts aimed at improving their health and economic status.
She mentioned certain harmful cultural and traditional practices that endangered the lives of both pregnant women and their babies, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and obstetric fistula (a condition caused by prolonged labour).
Mrs. Brew said without education, women were left in the dark and the need to place much emphasis to “bringing them to the light” should be a priority to the attainment of the MDG.
She also said interventions such as functional referral, proper communication and transportation systems and access to quality obstetric care were major requisites for ensuring a reduction in the maternal mortality rate.
“Currently about just half of women who need obstetric care have access due to the numerous challenges of our health care facilities such as non-availability of a stocked blood bank, infrastructure and drugs.”
She said the doctor-patient ratio of 1:17,000 patients and the ratio of one nurse to over 190 patients were very serious and needed urgent measures to bridge the gap.
Mrs Marian Tarkie, Director, MOWAC, welcomed government's commitment toward ensuring quality reproductive and better maternal health care for women and called for the mobilisation of local funding both at the regional and district levels to support programmes.
She called for the institution of gender responsive budgeting and equitable and balanced development.
She said until gender issues were addressed and women were empowered to negotiate for safe sex, take decisions concerning contraceptive usage and control over their fertility, attainment of the MDGs four and five would remain a major challenge.