The healthcare systems of most African countries continue to face serious challenges including lack of funding and neglect from the responsible bodies within Member State governments. UNICEF reports that in 2019, 6.1 million children and adolescents died, mostly from preventable causes. The report also stated that about 810 women die each day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths would have been prevented, if quality health care was provided to women and children.
Since the outbreak of the Novel Corona Virus, Member State national healthcare systems have been overwhelmed and disrupted, creating a shortage or gap in the provision of healthcare services. With women and children already facing challenges with regards to access to basic services such as maternal healthcare, adolescent SRHR, and general health care for children, COVID-19 has now made it more of a risk to visit health facilities.
One of the main factors that health care services are observing is the decline in mothers delivering in health facilities. This is a concern due to possibilities of more woman delivering from home which comes with serious complications for the mother and new-born. Globally, maternal mortality will see a spike of 24,000 deaths during 2020, as a result of COVID-19 according to UN reports. The global progress on reducing preventable maternal death was already lagging by around 20% before the outbreak occurred. The fear of people using health services may still continue to persist even when lockdown restrictions have been lifted.
Although efforts are being made to bring light to these issues with coronavirus being the leading concern in most countries, other health care services face long term implications. Most rural areas in Africa already struggle with accessing the basic necessities to run a health care service such as clean water and electricity. IAP reports show that 73% of health workers in 30 countries have cited shortages of sanitary products, and another 50% reported reduced access to clean water to help manage menstrual hygiene. This burden is now left to health care workers who cannot get assistance due to lockdown and other restrictions placed due to COVID-19.
In March 2020, the World Health Organization gave interim guidance for maintaining basic essential services during a pandemic. This included guidance on the prioritization of services related to SRHR and enhanced efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality. However, as the pandemic worsened, many Member States implemented lockdown measures and travel restrictions. These measures involved the shutting down of certain services which governments did not deem as essential. Unfortunately, some of the services that were shut down included sexual and reproductive health services.
Despite the magnitude of challenges, it is not impossible to come up with solutions to ensure that healthcare, a basic necessity and right for women and children, is enhanced and improved. Achieving Aspiration 1 (A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development) of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, requires a continental shift in approach to dealing with deficits in our healthcare systems so that all women and children have access to quality, affordable health care.