Govt not doing enough to reduce maternal, infant deaths

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
By: 
Gabi Khumalo

Johannesburg - Government is not doing enough to reduce the number of mothers who die during childbirth and the rate of infant mortality, says Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

"It is clear that we are not doing enough to decrease perinatal and child deaths in our country. It will be criminal for us to allow any of these things to happen," said the minister, speaking at the Maternal, Child and Women's Health Summit on Tuesday.

Minister Motsoaledi said it was unacceptable that mothers die from avoidable causes.

South Africa is among the 10 countries in the world that have failed dismally in bringing down infant mortality and the country is unlikely to meet this health Millennium Development Goal (MDG) by 2015, he said.

"This is an urgent task for all of us. We still have a few years between now and then and we need to do everything humanly possible to get as close to theses targets as possible," the minister said.

He challenged health workers to produce better health outcomes in spite of minimum resources. "Many countries that are poorer than us have much better health outcomes, if they can achieve better health outcomes with fewer resources, why can't we," he questioned.

Resources must be better utilized, because some areas have a lot of resources which are not be used efficiently. "I want us to start using what we have, what we can do better or more of, with our current resources."

Last year, the department launched three national committees to review maternal, perinatal and childhood deaths in South Africa. The principal tasks for the committees were on morbidity and mortality in children under five years of age.

According to a report presented by one of the committees at the summit on Tuesday, the number of deaths of children under five have increased from 61 percent in 1998 to 70.9 percent in 2007.

The minister said there were a number of social factors, such as poverty, illiteracy, lack of proper housing, lack of access to clean water, inadequate sanitation, which had lead to the proximal causes such as lack of access to good quality health services.

Neil McKerrow, one of the committee members, said HIV and malnutrition were also among the key underlying factors for the under five year deaths.

"Direct causes of under five-year old deaths include acute respiratory tract infection, Tuberculosis and Septicaemia and indirect causes are malnutrition and HIV, which underlies at least 50 percent of under five deaths," Mr McKerrow said.

The committee recommended the strengthening of existing health information systems and quality of care by investigating contributing factors as well as strengthening existing child survival programmes and primary health care and emergency treatment and referrals.

The Maternal, Child and Women's Health Summit is the first ever of its kind, and it aims to obtain consensus on the bottlenecks to meeting the health-related MDGs and to agree on steps to be taken to urgently address the bottlenecks.