Appraising Abia’s Effort In Reducing Infant Mortality – By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

Recently, Abia State Government added another milestone to its hall of fames.The state through its ministry of health, the Nestle Nutrition Institute of Africa, the Nigeria Society of Neonatal Medicine, and Vicar Hope Foundation held a workshop which trained 100 primary health care personnel  in Abia State on the skills of “Helping Babies Breathe”.The training is believed to enhance the knowledge of the participants and help to drastically reduce neonatal asphyxia and infant mortality in the state.The trainees include doctors, midwives, nurses and Community Health Extension Workers drawn from private and government hospitals, and primary health care centres especially those in the rural areas where the need is greater.It will be recalled that Abia State was earlier listed into its programme among six other States to benefit in funding the reduction of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.

According to the Chairman of the Central Coordinating Committee, Dr. Suzzy Nwachukwu, access to complete antenatal care is inadequate and a lot of births take place outside of a well equipped hospital. “Thus neonatal resuscitation skills are a life-saver during such deliveries. It will also reduce incidences of birth asphyxia, and its attendant long term effect on the newborn”.

Unarguably, this workshop is timely, considering the critical nature of the issues involved. The efforts of the state government and the partners should be highly applauded, especially the resolve of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to keep to his campaign promises of “”providing effective and efficient healthcare services to all Abia people, in every part of the state,  and strengthening the 710 government-owned healthcare centers by improving their infrastructure, funding and improving the quality of healthcare professionals deployed in them; and also partnering world-class healthcare providers to train  personnel and provide complimentary infrastructure”.

Neonatal asphyxia, which also known as Perinatal asphyxia or birth asphyxia is the medical condition resulting from deprivation of oxygen to a newborn infant that lasts long enough during the birth process to cause physical harm, usually to the brain.  Medical experts define Neonatal Resuscitation as the  intervention after a baby is born to help it breathe and to help its heart beat. This is because some babies need help with establishing their air flow, breathing, or circulation, and this intervention takes the form of helping them with Airway, Breathing, and Circulation, also known as the ABCs.t will be recalled that before a before a baby is born, the placenta provides oxygen and nutrition to the blood and removes carbon dioxide.After a baby is born, the lungs provide oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide.The transition from using the placenta to using the lungs for gas exchange begins when the umbilical cord is clamped or tied off, and the baby has its first breath.Many babies go through this transition without needing intervention.

Neonatal death (death of infant within the first 28 days of life), according to NDHS Report, 2003, in Nigeria is 48 per 1000 live births and almost half of infant death per annum results from poor maternal health and poor care at time of delivery. The major causes of these deaths are asphyxia, preterm, sepsis, neonatal tetanus, congenital conditions, diarrhea and others.It is also noted that globally, about one quarter of all neonatal deaths are caused by birth asphyxia.Therefore, effective resuscitation at birth can prevent a large proportion of these deaths.

On this note, it is pertinent to mention some of the giant strides of Gov. Ikpeazu in the health sector which have attracted the attention of multi-nationals such as MTN.These strides include the upgrading of the School of Midwifery at Abiriba, School of Nursing at Aba, Umuahia and Amachara which prompted their re-accreditation by the Midwifery and Nursing Council of Nigeria;approval of funds for the  construction of four 100 beds General Hospitals at Okeipke, Arochukwu and Obingwa, upgrading of Pediatrics, Radiology, Surgery, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Cardio-tomography, Ophthalmology, Anesthesia departments of Abia State University; the proposed Super Tertiary Medical Facility at Obuaku, which is oing to change the narrative in medical tourism;procurement of drugs to the rural communities.

Others are the “Save One Million Lives” campaign which targets one million under 5 children and women within their child- bearing ages; establishment of tuberculosis reference laboratory for the entire south East region at Amachara Specialist Hospital, 102 therapeutic centres, 42 Microscopy centres as well as two gene experts’ machines in the State for diagnosis in the treatment of tuberculosis inthe state.

Also, worthy of mention is the contributions of one of the partners of the project, Vicar Hope Foundation, the pet project of Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu, the wife of Abia State governor, to humanity.The foundation has empowered indigent Abians through the provision of  accommodations .It has also facilitated various skills acquisition training in conjunction with the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) for fifty youths drawn from oil producing communities of Ukwa West Local Government Area .

A state of the art Sickle Diagnosis and Treatment Centre of the foundation was commissioned in Umuahia, the capital of Abia State. The centre was built by the Vicar Hope Foundation, the pet project of Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu, the wife of Abia State governor.

The importance of diagnosis and treatment centre cannot be over- emphasised.It will offer a huge relief to sickle cell patients by providing treatment at a subsidized rate.According to reports, the disease has posed a serious concern to humankind as millions of people around the world, including both adults and children suffer from it. Tyhe World Health Organisation, WHO describes it as a potentially fatal disease and one of the main causes of premature death amongst children under the age of five in various African countries.

The disease, which is regarded as a major genetic disease in most countries in Sub- Saharan Africa,is a genetic blood disorder that affects the haemoglobin within the red blood cells .The recurrent pain and complications caused by the disease can interfere with many aspects of the patient’s life, including education, employment and psycho-social development.The sickle-cell trait is now known to be widespread, reaching its highest prevalence in parts of Africa as well as among people with origins in equatorial Africa, the Mediterranean basin and Saudi Arabia. In Africa, the highest prevalence of sickle-cell trait occurs between latitudes 15° North and 20° South, ranging between 10% and 40% of the population in some areas.

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