Historic Town Hall Focuses on Child Birth And Maternal Health in Niger Delta

Akure, Niger Delta – Nearly 300 people attended a ground-breaking town hall meeting in Ondo State in the Niger Delta to debate the role that traditional birth attendants (TBAs) should play in child birth and maternal health.

The meeting, which led to lively debate between officials and TBAs, or midwives, was organized by ICFJ’s Hala Nigeria project in collaboration with the Society for Family Health, Orange FM radio, and other partners.

The town hall grew out of a nationwide story contest that focused on engaging citizens on health topics in the news. Professional and citizen journalists produced stories on maternal health in Ondo State, and then worked to organize the town hall to hear from citizens on the issue.

Ondo State has barred midwives from delivering babies and instead has urged them to refer patients to licensed clinics with well-trained health workers and facilities capable of handling emergencies. The move has sparked controversy and criticism from midwives who say the state is depriving them of their livelihood, despite the offer of referral fees.

But Dr. Dayo Adeyanju, health commissioner for Ondo State, says maternal deaths have plummeted since the policy went into effect. He said the state government had invested millions in the heath sector and reduced maternal deaths to almost zero through their “Abiye Safe Motherhood” program. The Ondo State governor has made maternal health and child survival a priority, linked to Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) to reduce maternal mortality ratio and achieve full access to reproductive health.

Speaking at the town hall, Dr. Adeyanju said, “We don’t tolerate the traditional birth attendants who don’t even have any technical knowledge but claiming that it is a call from God. We have talked to their (union) heads and explained that birth delivery should mainly be handled by well-trained medical personnel approved by government.”

The town hall was the first of its kind in the state. The State Ministry of Health has held stakeholders’ meetings with TBAs but mainly to the women of its proposed policy to ban their child delivery practices and steer them towards other types of income generating activities.

The meeting was broadcast live over state radio in the Niger Delta, and streamed live online on the Hala Nigeria website, www.halanigeria.org . Viewers and listeners phoned in questions and comments, and also submitted them online.