This year's International Women's Day's theme; "Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum - ending the cycle of violence" could not have come at a better time especially for countries such as Nigeria where the 'life cycle' of women happens to be a very eventful one. Though national figures suggest a life expectancy of 50 years for women as compared to 48 years for men (Nigeria Democratic Health Survey 2008), the rigors women experience throughout their lifetime cannot be overemphasized and in some cases, are unimaginable.
As a woman in Nigeria, the struggle begins from birth. In many communities, the birth of a girl does not call for a grand celebration and the girl child is still not accorded the same educational opportunity as her male counterparts. This puts her at a disadvantage from a very young age. Girls are also exposed to the hazards of rape and sexual violence from as early as three years of age. This inevitably results in a greater threat of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, most notably HIV/AIDS.
The challenges of childbearing and management of fertility also put women at a very high risk of illnesses and death. While access to skilled birth attendance greatly improves the outcomes of women and their babies, less than 40% of women in Nigeria have this and up to 20% are delivered by untrained traditional birth attendants (National Demographic Health Survey 2008). Essential services such as family planning are poorly utilized, with only 24% of women using modern methods. As a result, an average Nigerian woman is likely to give birth to more than five children by the end of her childbearing years.
It is against this background that the Partnership for Transforming Health Systems Phase II (PATHS2), a six year project funded by UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID), has been supporting the government of Nigeria at the national level and in five focal states (Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Enugu and Lagos) to implement client focused interventions aimed at improving the health of women and children especially in rural areas. As part of national level support, PATHS2 is partnering with stakeholders to support efforts to ensure the National Health Bill becomes a reality. This bill pledges to provide a basic minimum package of healthcare services to all Nigerians by allocating resources to fund essential healthcare services such as pregnancy care, skilled birth attendance, post-natal care and routine immunization which are critical to the lives of women and children especially in the poorest communities.
To support health facilities to better serve the needs of communities, most especially women and children, PATHS2 has renovated 87 primary health care centers in its five focal states. In addition, drugs and essential equipment such as ultrasound machines have been delivered to 1,440 health facilities. More than 1,500 health care workers in PATHS2 supported states have also been trained on life saving skills, Post Abortion Care, Family Planning, Newborn Care and Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses among others. Through these interventions, health facilities have become better equipped to provide quality services in a client-focused approach.
At the community level, PATHS2 works closely with community volunteers to raise awareness on women's issues and mobilize men and women to become advocates for maternal and child health. Rapid awareness raising and safe motherhood initiatives are also being conducted in rural communities to inform citizens about common health problems and the importance of accessing health care in health centers.
PATHS2 will continue to support the government of Nigeria to improve the health and lives of women, especially in rural communities. It is hoped that through these interventions and more, Nigerian women will be able to join their counterparts in other parts of the world to truly celebrate International Women's Day.