Kumasi, June 11, GNA – It is a well established fact now that there is an increasing incidence of maternal deaths in the Ashanti Region, which has become a major source of concern not only to families, friends and relatives who lose their beloved ones through childbirth but the health authorities and workers as well as political and traditional leaders.
Available statistics indicate that 253 women in the Ashanti Region died in the course of delivery in 2011, as against 165 in 2010, placing the Region at the top of the maternal deaths chart in the country currently.
In the Kumasi Metropolis alone, thirty-eight women lost their lives in birth-related instances for the first quarter of 2012.
The Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH), a referral facility, had also been recording the highest figures - 154 in 2011 and 34 during the first quarter of this year.
Dr Akwasi Awudzi Yeboah, Kumasi Metropolitan Director of Health Services, addressing an emergency performance review meeting of the Directorate in Kumasi recently, said there was the need to take immediate action to combat the situation.
It would be recalled that Dr Aaron Offei, Regional Director of Health Services, re-echoed the same sentiment at the 2011 annual regional performance review meeting in Kumasi.
His main concern was that, these deaths had been occurring at health facilities, which something raised questions about the institutional readiness to promote safe motherhood.
“What is worrying is that, these are institutional deaths. This brings into question the emergency obstetric readiness of our facilities” he stated.
Reducing maternal and child mortality rates are among the priority goals to be achieved under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets set for 2015.
It is an irony that as the country gets closer to the deadline, maternal deaths, keep going up year- after-year, an indeed a sad story.
A number of reasons have been assigned for this disturbing trend in the region.
While some people, including health managers and workers are attributing it to the refusal by many pregnant women to regularly attend ante-natal clinics, others are blaming the situation on the lack of adequate maternal health facilities at the district hospitals, health centres and clinics.
It is true that most public health facilities in the districts lack basic facilities to respond promptly to maternal emergencies. This has resulted in frequent referral of emergency cases to KATH resulting in congestion and pressure on the already overstretched limited facilities at the hospital.
A section of the population is also pointing accusing figures at the national health insurance capitation system being piloted in the region by the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA).
The controversy surrounding the implementation of the pilot system and the subsequent withdrawal of most private health care providers from its implementation is said to be significantly contributing to the rising maternal deaths in recent times in the region.
Pregnant women who hitherto received ante-natal care at the private facilities in their communities with their insurance cards are denied care.
Those attending the public health facilities are not given the required quality care due to lack of facilities and congestion.
The low premium paid to public hospitals under the capitation system is also said to be affecting revenue generation efforts of these hospitals to procure the needed facilities and equipment to expand and enhance their operations.
One wonders why the region is still piloting the capitation system after almost six months of implementation.
It is important that the NHIA takes a second look at the system and undertakes a critical analysis of the impact of the new insurance payment system on health care delivery in the region to determine if it could be implemented nationwide.
Again, the unfortunate situation brings to the fore the urgent need to build a regional hospital. This could not wait.
It is regrettable that Ashanti, the most populous, and situated right in the middle of the country, has no regional hospital.
This, combined with inadequate facilities at the district hospitals and the pressure on the limited facilities at KATH, is severely impeding quality health care generally and maternal health in particular.
It is important that, the government takes a serious look at what is happening and see to it that sufficient resources, both human and material, are made available to district hospitals and health centres to enable them provide basic emergency health services.
Sustained community health education campaign, especially for expectant mothers should also be vigorously pursued in the districts and communities to encourage expectant mothers to regularly visit the hospitals.
It is on account of this that the regional health directorate deserves commendation for establishing a Maternal Mortality Task Force. The Taskforce, made up of obstetrician and gynaecologists and experienced midwives, according to Dr Offei, will support district hospitals to provide services to pregnant women in rural communities.
Again, the plan to set up a regional blood bank is most appropriate. This will help to organize, store and distribute blood to public health facilities in the region. With this, access to blood during emergencies will be assured.
The expectation is that the central government, district assemblies, traditional authorities and all stakeholders will support these initiatives to help reduce maternal deaths in the region.
The state has the moral responsibility to ensure the safety, protection and wellbeing of women who decide to give birth to future leaders of the nation.
It is also an obligation on all health workers to make sure that any pregnant woman who reports to any health facility to deliver should walk home alive. This undoubtedly could be achieved through the collective efforts of all stakeholders.
(A GNA Feature by KWABIA OWUSU-MENSAH)