THE UNITED Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Regional Director for the Eastern and Southern Africa, Julitta Onabanjo, says maternal deaths continue to be a huge challenge in Lesotho.
Dr Onabanjo said this on Tuesday while on a field trip to the Maputsoe Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Clinic and Butha–Buthe Government Hospital to observe developments on the UNFPA funded health programmes in the two health facilities.
The Maputsoe SDA Clinic was funded by UNFPA and the government in 2012 to pilot the integration of the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and HIV services while the Butha-Buthe Government Hospital is piloting an electronic system to coordinate pharmacies around the country.
Speaking at the tour of Maputsoe SDA Clinic, Dr Onabanjo said that while she witnessed some progress in the dispensation of health services in Lesotho, it was alarming that many women die at child birth.
“For a country in the Eastern Southern Africa, three things still worry us,” Dr Onabanjo said.
“One is the high levels of maternal deaths. We need to continue to ensure that no woman dies while giving birth. We must ensure that we reduce and actually end the deaths because many of those maternal deaths are preventable.
“One of the ways to reduce death is to ensure that women can plan their families and that unplanned pregnancies become a thing of the past. A woman must have a choice as to when to have a child and to be able to space those. That’s where family planning becomes key and fundamental.”
She said that teenage pregnancies were contributing to the high maternal mortality.
“Teen pregnancy is not going away here and we need to the understand why and what can be done for that. Our task to ensure that young girls – when they start to be sexually active – understand what it means and the potential risks for HIV, STIs and unplanned teen pregnancies because they are contributing to maternal deaths,” Dr Onabanjo said.
She added that Lesotho still has the second largest prevalence of HIV in the world where at least one out of four people are infected with the virus which makes prevention fundamental.
“All efforts need to be made to ensure that people understand that HIV remains real, they can get infected if they are not protected and that protection is the only way to go. We should ensure that every pregnancy is planned, every child birth is safe and that every person’s potential is fulfilled,” Dr Onabanjo said.
She said many women on the African continent were still in the receiving end of the backward systems and were still to be mainstreamed into the development programmes.
“I appreciate the commitment of this government to the health and the wellbeing of its people. But indeed, there are lots of challenges that our populations experience, especially women who have all sorts of inequalities built into the systems that we see in Africa,” Dr Onabanjo said.
For her part, the Ministry of Health Director General, Nyane Letsie, said the ministry would expand health services to rural areas so that the new innovative strategies are accessible to 75 percent of the population in the areas.
Dr Letsie added that the ministry was employing strategies to encourage men and adolescents to get information and use the health services to achieve a universal coverage, especially with antiretroviral treatment.
“Our demographic health survey has indicated that men were not utilising services as expected and we have an increasing prevalence among adolescents. There is also little information on HIV among adolescents. So, this means we must observe culture and still strive to provide good health services,” Dr Letsie said.