Address by President Jacob Zuma during High Level Event on the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), 27 January 2013
Let me begin by underlining that it is of critical importance for the African Union to prioritise women and child health.
Discussing the matter at this highest level of African leadership indicates the seriousness with which Africa regards women’s health and well-being.
South Africa launched its Campaign for accelerated reduction of maternal mortality in Africa (CARMMA) strategy in May 2012.
I must admit that we were one of the last countries to launch our CARMMA strategy. We delayed because we needed to plan very carefully. After a thorough analysis we agreed to the following key interventions, which we are implementing within the context of our five year strategy to deal with children’s health, women’s health and nutrition strategy.
We are strengthening family planning to reduce unwanted pregnancies because a study conducted by a committee on confidential enquiries into maternal mortality in our country has concluded that teenage pregnancies contribute to 36% of maternal deaths even though they constitute only 8% of the total number of pregnancies. This means that reducing teenage pregnancies will markedly reduce maternal mortality.
Secondly we continue with our programme of eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV. We have scored enormous achievements on this one. We have already reduced transmission from 8% in 2008 to 2.7% in 2011.
Our desire is to eliminate transmission completely. We can only do so by making sure that every pregnant woman presents early for counselling and testing for HIV.
Where appropriate, they would be enrolled into the prevention of mother to child transmission programme.
Thirdly, we wish to strengthen our maternity services by deploying dedicated obstetric ambulances to transport women in labour to the nearest appropriate health facility or maternity waiting homes for women who have difficult pregnancies and who live far from maternity services.
Fourthly, is the training of doctors and nurses who work in maternity units in the essential steps in the management of child birth emergencies, including the resuscitation of mothers and babies and dealing the bleeding.
Fifth is the training of more midwives and advanced midwives, the improvements in the treatment of newborn babies, strengthening exclusive breastfeeding and taking steps to reduce malnutrition.
Another key intervention is the expansion of our immunisation coverage especially improving coverage of the newly introduced vaccines against diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Unfortunately, despite progress in dealing with HIV since 2009, HIV still contributes to about 40% of maternal and child deaths in South Africa. This means that unless we deal decisively with HIV we will not be able to reduce maternal and child mortality to any significant extent.
In order to strengthen our HIV programmes we have asked every South African to test for HIV at least once a year.
During a campaign that I launched in April 2010 we mobilised millions of South Africans to test for HIV – this is a campaign that we need to sustain until we extinguish the epidemic. Currently, more than 20 million people have taken the HIV test since 2010 which is remarkable.
Part of the reason for this campaign was to show the nation that leaders in all walks of life are vulnerable and therefore should test! I hoped that this will decrease the stigma related to HIV and I think that we are beginning to succeed in this regard – but we cannot become complacent!
We have developed a national dashboard to monitor progress in the implementation of CARMMA and together with development partners we have supported provinces to strengthen their plans to achieve the goals of CARMMA.
Recent data suggests that because of the expansion of our HIV programme significant gains are being made in increasing life expectancy and decreasing infant and children under five mortality.
The extent of the HIV epidemic makes it imperative that Africa develops local capacity to produce antiretrovirals for HIV treatment as well as male and female condoms.
With development assistance decreasing, we need to ensure that we can sustain the gains that we have made as reported in the 2012 Global AIDS Report prepared by the UNAIDS, and that we are able to expand access to commodities like condoms and medicines and antiretrovirals.
South Africa is committed to doing everything we can to decrease maternal and child mortality and to improve the lives of women and children, both in our country and on the continent.
As members of several multilateral organisations such as the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth as well as BRICS, we will use every opportunity to achieve the goals set in CARMMA.
I thank you!