To address the increasing prevalence of anemia in pregnancy, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, led by H.E. Mrs. Toyin Saraki, participated in the Knorr/Unilever Nutrition Symposium on the 15th of May 2015. With approximately 2 billion people across the globe suffering from nutrition deficiencies, iron deficiency has the biggest impact on public health, with Nigeria facing one of the largest burdens in this regard - where an estimated 1 in 2 women of reproductive years (15-46) and 72% of children under 5 years of age are anaemic.
As an international campaigner for maternal, newborn and child health rights, WBFA Founder-President Mrs. Toyin Saraki led the discussions relating to maternal health and addressed the importance of making maternal iron deficiency a key health focus in Nigeria. Speaking on the panel, H.E. Mrs. Toyin Saraki reaffirmed that, “The impact of anaemia – and iron-deficiency anaemia – on mothers has a ripple effect that affects their survival during pregnancy, the health of their child, and the overall wellbeing of their families. Anaemia during pregnancy is linked to an increased risk of preterm delivery, a low birth weight, and a higher risk of stillbirths or newborn deaths.”
Anaemia can have far reaching impact on maternal health and wellbeing as well as children’s health and development; however the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency are commonly overlooked. While pregnant women need triple the amount of iron than that of adult men in order to increase their and their baby’s haemoglobin mass and blood volume, it is difficult for many to meet this high-iron requirement through diet alone - leading to dangerous iron-deficiency that is associated with 1 in 6 maternal deaths across the world.
Emphasizing the fact that mothers and daughters are both drivers of change to address nutritional deficiencies, H.E. Mrs. Toyin Saraki further stated, “I believe that if we educate women about the importance of a nutrient rich diet, and the importance of increasing iron intake during adolescence, women will respond. They will make the changes to their diets and drive change that will be felt across generations.”
Bearing in mind that teenage girls and women of reproductive age are especially vulnerable to anaemia, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa has initiated programmes such as the Alaafia Universal Health Coverage Fund that provides pregnant women and adolescent girls with access to consistent, quality primary healthcare that can identify and treat the condition. Further to this, the foundation’s Personal Health Records - which tracks the health of a mother and her child from the early stages of pregnancy to their child’s fifth birthday, enables women and their caregivers to note iron-levels and any other relevant health data. This will help mothers to recognise the need to increase their iron intake as well as enabling caregivers to provide effective advice and treatment on anaemia.
At the close of the symposium, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, the Nigerian Society of Nutrition, and Girls Effect signed Memorandums of Understanding in support of addressing iron deficiency anemia in maternal health in Nigeria while pledging to join hands to effect change.