Recently, the debate on how best to reverse the high rate of maternal mortality in Kano, with specific reference to the critical role of free maternal health legislation, engaged the attention of lawmakers, the academia, media and civil society. The well-attended two-day retreat was organised by the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED). It was a review meeting, which provided the busy lawmakers a serene atmosphere to read and digest the contents of the Free Maternal Health Bill developed by CHRICED in concert with a wide range of stakeholders in Kano State. The Free Maternal Health Bill, which has already been presented to the Speaker of the Kano State House of Assembly, is an ambitious piece of legislation, which takes its roots from the extensive research conducted by CHRICED to understand the knotty issues of poor maternal healthcare infrastructure, access and practices in Kano State.
The rationale behind the bill is to ensure increased and equitable access to and use of skilled maternal healthcare services, as a dimension of the fundamental right of citizens to quality healthcare. CHRICED designed the bill against the backdrop of existing inequities in maternity services accessibility and utilization. It is further premised on the notion that financial barriers are one of the most important constraints to equitable access and use of skilled maternal health care.
This premise therefore informed the position in the Bill that there is a need for government to manage its resources creatively, with the goal of providing comprehensive maternal health services to all categories of women in Kano State. To drum home the importance of this perspective, the CHRICED Executive Director, Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, stressed in his keynote address, the need to get the buy-in and commitment of the lawmakers. Going by the substantial turnout of principal officers and members of the Kano State House of Assembly, the CHRICED helmsman expressed optimism that the state was on the verge of taking a decisive step towards removing Nigeria from the global maternal mortality map.
He said: “We cannot run away from the fact that the challenge of maternal mortality represents one of our most difficult development and governance issues. As Nigeria’s most populous state, Kano would definitely come up as a state of interest when the fact of Nigeria’s unenviable status as one of the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, is raised.
“Across the world, every minute, one woman loses her life as a result of child birth or complications relating to pregnancy. In one year, that is over half a million women losing their lives to the problem of maternal mortality. Globally, more than three million babies are stillborn, more than four million new-borns die within the first days or weeks of life, and altogether 10.6 million children a year die before their fifth birthday, according to recent figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO).”
Comrade Dr. Ibrahim called on stakeholders not to see the statistics reeled out as abstract realities. He explained that there are many touching personal stories, which point to the need for concerted effort towards creative, and people centred solutions to the problem of maternal mortality. He further stressed that the high rate of maternal mortality in Nigeria, especially in Kano State, paints a very ironic scenario in which a mother that is on the verge of bringing another human to life, loses her own life in the process.
“Apart from the inhumanity apparent in such a tragic situation, it runs contrary to the spirit and letters of all national and international human rights instrument, which consciously advocate the right to life, as an inalienable human right. A close look at recent Maternal Mortality Ratios (MMR) from various studies shows that the figures for Kano State are way higher than the averages at the national and geo-political zonal levels.”
Responding, Speaker, Kano State House of Assembly, Alhaji Kabiru Alhassan Rurum, who was represented by Alhaji Babba Baffa Dan’Agundi expressed the readiness of the Kano State House of Assembly to take up the initiative championed by CHRICED. He said the Kano State House of Assembly was already taking crucial steps to address the health issues in Kano State by firstly passing the Kano State Health Trust Fund Bill into law. On the other hand, the Majority Leader, Yusuf Abdullahi Ata called on CHRICED to immediately make a formal submission of the bill to the House, just as he promised to galvanise other members to ensure the speedy passage of the bill into law, as it was (presently) considering a related bill on establishing Kano State Health Trust Fund.
The Assembly stated further that while there was already in existence, a policy for the Free Maternal Healthcare by executive order in the state, it was critical for a legal framework for such executive initiative to be in place. It was noted that if the Free Maternal Health Bill is passed into law, it will help to implement the executive policy more efficiently and effectively. It was also suggested that to facilitate greater consensus, and to enable the Bill sail through the legislative and executive processes, there was a need for a joint meeting between the House, the Ministry of Health and the CHRICED in order to have a final touch on the bill. A public hearing to give the people of Kano State an insight into the nitty-gritty of the legislation is also on the cards. Apart from conforming to the democratic tenets, which anchor all policies on the express wishes and aspirations of the ordinary people, it was noted that the public hearing would ensure the legislation conforms to the rules and procedures of best practices of legislation.
Already, the CHRICED Bill on Free Maternal Healthcare in Kano State has passed through rigorous process of validation and evaluation. The Kano Emirate Health Committee, the Kano State House Committee on Health, community activists, health workers, professional bodies and the media, have all been engaged by CHRICED to take a look at the legislation and make inputs. According to the CHRICED helmsman, what is being done by the legislators and civil society is about the welfare of the citizens of Kano State.
He said: “It is about saving lives and meeting the demands of those who you represent. CHRICED intervention in this area seeks to tap the latent power of the citizen by fostering robust civic participation towards engagements that would bring about clear cut changes in their social conditions. We are convinced that it is not enough to call on citizens to participate in governance. It is critical that such participation must be in the pursuit of specific interests that pertain to the sustainment or improvement of the social conditions of citizens. The important role of the legislature in giving to the aspirations of the citizen cannot be ignored.”
Another important highlight of the retreat was the formal presentation of the CHRICED research report on maternal health access and practices in Kano State to the Rt. Hon. Speaker, the Majority Leader of the House, and the Chairman, House Committee on Health.