FACT-CHECK: How is Gambia Doing on Maternal Mortality Since 2017?

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Campaign posters by activists calls for improved maternal care (Photo Credit: Gambian Women’s Lives Matter)

By Patience Loum

During a press conference held on 7 December, 2021, a journalist asked the President about his plans to address challenges affecting women.

In his response, President Adama Barrow noted that his government is committed to improving the standards of living for women and that maternal mortality rates have gone down significantly.

Over the years, a number of protests have been held in The Gambia to highlight concerns about maternal mortality. This advocacy intensified when a gender advocate questioned  Barrow’s commitment to addressing the plight of Gambian women.

Claim: President Adama Barrow said “for [maternal] mortality rates, I think people should look at the statistics; it is going down drastically. We look at from 2017 to now, so that means we are doing very well as far as that sector is concerned.”

Maternal mortality refers to deaths due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth and is measured as number of deaths per 100,000 live births.

Fact-Check: Soon after a march dubbed “Women Lives Matter” held in September 2020, the Minister of Health, Dr. Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, told National Assemblyin Banjul that “comparatively Gambia is not doing so badly” on maternal mortality and that deaths were on the decline.

Samateh provided Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) statistics from 2013 to 2020. It’s worth noting that the 2020 statistics are as of September 2020, meanwhile, all other MMR statistics are for the entire year.

According to an article published by the Standard Newspaper in September 2020, the health minister reported that “in 2013, according to the demographic health survey, there were 433 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Now when you go to 2014, it was 208 [death]; 2015, 250 [deaths] per 100,000 live births; 2016, 195 [deaths]; 2017, 236 [deaths]; 2018, 283 [deaths]; 2019, 221 [deaths] per 100,000 live births; and as we speak, based on the figures already gathered up to September this year, it is 169 [deaths] per 100,000 live births.”

Fact-Check Gambia reviewed and reproduced the data provided by Health Minister Samateh in a chart to give a graphical representation of the trend of MMR in the Gambia between 2013 and 2020.

Graphic by Yusef Taylor

Maternal Mortality Rate Targets and Discrepancies

It’s worth noting that in the National Development Plan, 2018 (page 13), the Gambia Government plans to “reduce MMR from 433/100,000 in 2013 to 315/100,000 in 2021”.

It can be seen from the data provided above that the MMR has been lower than 284 deaths per 100,000 for six years in a row, since 2013. This means that the Gambia has exceeded the NDP target to reduce MMR to 315 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021.

The United Nations has recommended a global “Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.” Given that the Gambia’s MMR is fluctuating at above 150, there is still much work needed to achieve the UN’s goal of not more than 70 deaths per 100,000 live births.

However, according to the World Bank, in 2017, the MMR was 597 deaths per 100,000 live births. This contradicts Health Minister Samateh’s statistics for 2017 which he noted to be 236 deaths per 100,000 deaths.

Below is a chart from the World Bank website on The Gambia’s MMR from 2000 to 2017. Notwithstanding, the data from the Bank shows a downward trend.

A screen grab of maternal mortality in The Gambia by the World Bank

Verdict: According to the statistics, in 2017, the MMR was 236 deaths per 100,000 live births and in 2019, it was 221 deaths per 100,000 live deaths.

The difference means that the MMR declined by 15 deaths per 100,000 live births. This means that President Adama Barrow’s claim that MMR has declined in the Gambia since 2017 is TRUE.

It’s also true that President Barrow’s administration has exceeded its 2021 MMR target of 315 in the National Development Plan.

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