How a philanthropist who suffered the devastation of losing a child at birth became a global leader in the fight to improve healthcare for mothers and babies
*Healthcare philanthropist Toyin Saraki, 53, lost a baby in childbirth in 1992
*Experience led the Nigerian activist to establish the Wellbeing Foundation Africa
*It works to improve maternal, newborn, and child health across the continent
*One focus is infant mortality, which she has been instrumental in improving.
A philanthropist revealed how her own painful experience of losing a baby in childbirth has led her in her mission to improve infant and maternal health.
Toyin Saraki, 52, was 25 and six months pregnant when she returned home to Nigeria in 1992 for her wedding to Bukola Saraki, now President of the Nigerian senate.
A dual Anglo-Nigerian national, Mrs Saraki had been planning to visit the country for the ceremony before flying back to London in time for the birth.
But the day before her wedding, at 28 weeks pregnant, the mother-to-be was rushed to the local maternity hospital.
The first baby was delivered safely but the second was on its side and Mrs Saraki required an emergency Caesarian section. She was eventually taken but the delay proved fatal and the baby died.
For Mrs Saraki, who went on to have three more children, the tragedy was compounded by the knowledge that situations like hers were frighteningly common in Nigeria and in other developing nations.
This led her to establish the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA), which works to improve maternal, newborn, and child health across the continent.
The philanthropist, who this week attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, has been instrumental in improving maternal and child healthcare across Nigeria.
One of WBFA’s hallmark programmes is its ‘Mamacare’ clinics, which provide vital care to expectant mothers and essential training to midwives.
Held in hospitals, the monthly sessions provide women the information they need to recognise if their births are being managed correctly, empowering them to take control of the situation if something goes awry.
It also provides further training to midwives who are already qualified, allowing them to improve the quality of their care.
Subjects such as nutrition, domestic violence and savings are discussed too, in line with Mrs Saraki’s hollistic approach to improving healthcare.
Such programmes are essential in a nation which has the second highest rate of maternal mortality globally. In 2015, around 303,000 women globally died giving birth.
Data collected over the 22 months Mamacare has been in operation reveal the undisputed benefits of such a programme. Not one of the more than 200,000 mothers who have enrolled in the programme has died, and each mother has achieved the WHO benchmark recommendation of at least eight antenatal visits.
The programme has also had a positive impact on infant mortality rates, as mothers and midwives are equipped to recognise and respond to emergency situations.
Mrs Saraki also believes midwives have an important role to play in the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
A 2017 report by the UN Population Fund estimates that one in four women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM in Nigeria.
Mrs Saraki said: ‘As community focal points for health, midwives can educate communities about the importance of banning the act. Midwives can also be trusted confidantes for adolescent girls and women at risk of FGM & help communities self-report.
‘I believe we must empower young girls to fundamentally transform community perceptions on girl’s education, on women’s health, on FGM, and on women’s rights.’