Ondo State in western Nigeria is leading a two-year revolution through the astute use of communication and technology. By distributing cell phones to poor pregnant women in rural areas, it has reduced maternal and infant mortality by 30%. While lobbyists and nations with population agendas are busy bandying doubtful statistics about the causes of maternal and child deaths, officials from this little state of 3.4 million people, located 100km from Lagos, discovered why so many women were dying.

Their findings: the number of women who were delivering babies at the basic health centres was low and many were dying. Why? When labor contractions start, pregnant mothers do not get quickly enough to health centres and they can sometimes die from excessive bleeding or other labor complications.

The solution: provide the mothers with cell phones so that they stay connected to health care providers who monitor them regular and provide routine counseling. If there is an emergency, they can be quickly evacuated to health centres with experienced personnel instead of home self-help or untrained traditional caregivers.

The Ondo project, called the Abiye Safe Motherhood Project and the Mother & Child Hospital Initiatives, has been running for two years. The Ondo commissioner for health, Dr Dayo Adeyanju, has says that the project has been so successful that 1,220 babies were delivered in a single year with only one mortality reported. This he says is a record 100 deaths per 100,000 live births in a country that has a national mortality ratio of 545 per 100,000 live births.

Adeyanju believes that at this rate the Millenium Development Goals 4 and 5 would be achievable here by 2015, and that his state of Ondo would be the “saving grace” for Nigeria. Many predicted that Nigeria would not achieve this before 2095.

For me, this is a lesson in development efforts inspired by a sincere will to help the needy and backed by scientific data. It shows up NGO bureaucrats who take money from Western sponsors, cruise around urban Lagos in their four-wheel drives, and dish up quarterly cut-and-paste reports to their bosses. They parrot family-and-population unfriendly slogans — not because they have proof, but because those are the terms in vogue.

Eugene Ohu lives in Lagos. He is the editor of Harambee.

Eugene Ohu

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