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08.15.08 - In Nigeria, pregnant women just hours from giving birth travel unprotected on motorbikes instead of ambulances. Other women go around maternity wards begging for money to pay hospital fees. This shouldn't be happening in Nigeria: the country has vast amounts of oil wealth and good maternal health policies. But some 59,000 Nigerian women still die every year during pregnancy and childbirth. The Nigerian government's unwillingness to reveal how it spends its money has thwarted efforts to provide all women with high quality maternal healthcare. This was a key finding of the Center's newest report, Broken Promises: Human Rights, Accountability, and Maternal Death in Nigeria. In 2008, Nigeria gave slightly above 5% of its annual budget—a third of what it promised in a regional treaty—to the health sector. But the country has no laws guaranteeing public access to fiscal information, and that makes it difficult to find out who received that money and how it was spent. Hospitals are built, but not staffed or equipped. In some instances, local governments receive money to pay healthcare workers, but those workers never receive their salaries. Without details on health spending, it is hard to identify effective strategies for curbing maternal mortality, or to hold governments accountable for unfulfilled obligations.
The Center is partnering with the Nigeria-based Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre to promote greater transparency and healthcare reforms in Nigeria. Together, the two organizations launched the report on July 1, 2008, just a few days before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviewed Nigeria’s record on women's human rights. During the review, many committee members raised questions, based on the report, about Nigeria's efforts to reduce maternal mortality. Onyema Afulukwe, a visiting attorney at the Center from Nigeria and one of the co-authors of the report, also spoke to the Guardian Weekly about her take on the problem.