In the News

In Republic of Congo, a Revolution in Maternal Health

18 September 2013

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of the Congo – At first glance, Central University Hospital in Brazzaville looks like so many other hospitals in so many other African capitals – home to dimly lit waiting rooms and dirty floors. But inside the freshly painted mint-green walls of the hospital's maternity ward, a revolution is happening.

In 10 years, the country has reduced the number of women dying in child birth by more than 50 percent, with most of that drop occurring in the last two years.

Before 2005, even, "there was nothing" in most health facilities, says Dr. Léon Hervé Iloki, a practicing gynecologist and director of the national Observatory on Maternal and Newborn Mortality, established in 2010 to audit the causes of maternal and infant death. "Forceps? You didn't have them. You didn't have other instruments for helping in delivery. Even beds were not always there.

"The difference today is spectacular," he says. "And for the women giving birth, it is incalculable."

It's also a rare rate of improvement in maternal health, on a continent that could use some good news: Fifty-six percent of women worldwide who die in childbirth are dying in sub-Saharan Africa. Less than half of all births in the region are overseen by qualified professionals, whether doctors or medically trained midwives. But peaceful Congo-Brazzaville's improvements on maternal mortality have gone largely unnoticed, overshadowed perhaps as bad news from Africa dominates the bandwidth.

Yet the country is besting worldwide trends. Globally, maternal mortality has dropped by roughly 45 percent in the last 20 years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – far short of the 75 percent reduction envisioned by the Millennium Development Goals. Congo-Brazzaville has exceeded that global rate by a third. David Lawson, the country director for UNFPA, a partner in the maternal health projects, says that if progress continues at the same rate, Congo might, in fact, meet the Millennium Development Goal on schedule, in 2015. According to a recent study in the Lancet, only about a dozen countries are expected to meet that goal.

Read the full story by Jina Moore on Al Jazeera America.