GOMBE STATE, Nigeria — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world. It has been a long-term contributor in the fight for global health, poverty eradication and equity across the world since its launch in 2000. The Foundation has done extensive work in Nigeria with a particular concentration on maternal and child healthcare. One region in Nigeria, Gombe State, has worked extensively with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in order to improve conditions for pregnant women, recent mothers, newborns and young children. Maternal health in Gombe State is plagued by a number of factors, including poverty, lack of proper healthcare facilities and miseducation.
Poverty and Healthcare in Nigeria
Currently, the World Poverty Clock estimates the number of people living in poverty in Nigeria has surpassed 95 million people. It continues to grow rapidly, accounting for more than 47 percent of the country’s population. In 2018, Nigeria surpassed India as the country with the most amount of people living in extreme poverty. The impoverished population increases by a rate of six people every minute.
Poverty in Nigeria affects the country in a number of difficult ways; however, maternal healthcare is one area that has suffered in particular. In 2015, the maternal mortality count reached more than 58,000 women. Fewer than 5 percent of public health facilities meet internationally accepted standards for obstetric care. Furthermore, only one out of every three births actually occurs at a health center. The healthcare system in Nigeria faces issues of doctor-patient communication, lack of expertise and shortages of essential drugs and equipment. These are all problems that threaten both mother and child.
Maternal Health in Gombe State
Gombe State is a region located in the middle northeastern area of Nigeria. It is home to 2.4 million people. More than 72 percent of these people live on less than $1 a day. In Gombe State, women account for 49.9 percent of the population and the median number of years of education for these women is zero.
Financial and cultural barriers, lacking health systems and limited healthcare access are all key underlying factors affecting maternal health in Gombe State. The region sees high rates of maternal and newborn death as well as death in children under five years old.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed greatly to the efforts to improve maternal health in Gombe State. The Foundation started the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health program with the overarching goal of increasing coverage of prioritized life-saving interventions to improve the health outcome for mothers and children.
One focus the Gates Foundation had with projects like these pertained to a lack of individuals able to provide proper healthcare. The Borgen Project was able to interview Hugh Chang, former Director of the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He stated that “lack of trained healthcare workers” was one of the most critical problems facing maternal health in Nigeria.
The Gates Foundation aimed to increase the number of village health workers by training and educating local women to provide basic health services. The training focused on the importance of nutrition in pregnant women as well as the basics of fetal growth and signs of a higher-risk pregnancy. Chang stated that the biggest obstacle in reducing maternal and newborn mortality is “quality of care.” This is one reason the Foundation prioritizes improving such care for mothers and children alike.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been pivotal in improving the quality of maternal health in Gombe State. Pregnant women, newborns and young children are uniquely vulnerable to the challenges that poverty creates for healthcare. In countries with high maternal mortality rates, such as Nigeria, the work that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done has been essential to creating a safer and healthier future.
– Elizabeth Baker