Pregnancy can be challenging anywhere, but being pregnant in Niger is often life-threatening. Around 14,000 women in Niger die every year as a result of pregnancy-related complications, with only 29 percent of births attended by skilled medical professionals. Because giving birth at home is a deeply ingrained cultural tradition in Niger, only 17 percent of women give birth in health facilities.
Challenges in Being Pregnant in Niger
The difficulties of being pregnant in Niger are exacerbated by the persistence of gender inequality. Women are often treated as property, with girls being married or even sold off before reaching puberty. Violence against girls and women remains a huge problem, especially because victims have often been conditioned to expect and tolerate these abuses.
Due to limited national resources and inadequate funding, the health care system in Niger is unequal to the task of providing universal care for all Nigeriens and relies heavily on assistance from charitable organizations. In 2015, an evaluation of Niger’s national health policy, led by the World Health Organization, revealed that only minimal progress had been made in the area of maternal health. To address this need, nonprofit groups such as Nutrition International are taking action.
Nutrition International is an organization “helping more pregnant women and their newborns receive access to essential health care services, medicines and other commodities, including vitamins and minerals.” This initiative includes assessing the prenatal and antenatal care as well as pregnancy outcomes and evaluating the potential barriers to care for Nigerien women. These barriers range from a lack of confidence that prenatal and antenatal care is as important as they are being told to more practical concerns such as being able to afford transportation to medical appointments.
The period of time during and shortly after birth is a crucial one for both mother and newborn child. Unforeseen complications can arise, and without adequately trained health providers as well as the proper medicine and equipment, too many mothers and babies needlessly die. Nutrition International is also making materials available to facilities in Niger to provide care to pregnant and postpartum women as well as to train health personnel to give improved care and counseling to their patients. Furthermore, they are utilizing volunteers within the community to impart to pregnant women and their families the importance of antenatal care.
UNICEF and UNFPA
In 2017 alone, 81 out of every 1,000 live births resulted in the death of the infant before reaching one year of age. UNICEF provides support to the government of Niger to ensure that mothers and their babies receive a “continuum of care,” from prenatal to antenatal and promotes the education of girls, which can decrease the odds of childhood or adolescent pregnancy.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) implemented a program in 2014 called Action for Adolescent Girls. This has played an important role in helping to improve conditions for women who are pregnant in Niger. One important mission of the organization is to ensure that the women, and not young girls, are entering into marriages of their own volition and not being impregnated before they are physically and emotionally ready.
UNFPA sought out and trained local women to serve as mentors to young Nigerien girls, teaching them the basics of female hygiene, reproductive health, literacy and the basics of how to manage money. They were taught that child marriage is illegal and were informed of their other rights as citizens and human beings. Within the first eight-month cycle of the program, this initiative had already resulted in an increase of contraceptive use from 19 percent to 34 percent.
The government of Niger continues to work with global organizations to improve the health of prospective and new mothers as well as their children. USAID contributes to this effort with development and humanitarian programs in Niger, all of which are aimed at making the country more self-sufficient. The more financially solvent the country is, the better educated its population will be, ensuring that fertility rates continue to decline while the Nigerien economy continues to improve. With assistance from the U.S. and other wealthy nations, Niger can fulfill its potential and all of its citizens can thrive.
– Raquel Ramos