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UNFPA names Nigerian actress, Stephanie Linus as Regional Ambassador for Maternal Health

Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Primary Health Care Board, Dr. Atinuke Onayiga decorates Stephanie Linus as UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal Health in West and Central as UNFPA Africa Maternal Health Advisor, Sabrina Pestilli watches PHOTO: JULIET UMEH.
Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Primary Health Care Board, Dr. Atinuke Onayiga decorates Stephanie Linus as UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal Health in West and Central as UNFPA Africa Maternal Health Advisor, Sabrina Pestilli watches

As part of its activities in marking the international Women’s Day, the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, named Stephanie Linus, a Nigerian actress also a member of the order the Federal Republic (MFR) of Nigeria as UNFPA Regional Ambassador for West and Central Africa. Mrs. Linus, is an award winning actress and activist, who is passionate about women’s right and health.

As Regional Ambassador, Mrs. Linus will help advocate and raise awareness on the issues on maternal health, whilst encouraging policies and laws that protect the rights and dignity of the girl child, and the critical investments needed for young people to fulfill their potential and for Africa to reap its demographic dividend.

Mrs. Linus who felt honored for the chance given to her to perform the role of UNFPA’s regional goodwill ambassador for maternal health in West and Central Africa region was grateful. In her acceptance speech she said: “I am honored to partner with UNFPA, to create an enabling environment for women, girls and every young  persons to fulfill their potential. I will work closely with the Fund to draw attention to the work that still needs to be done across the region to increase universal access to comprehensive sexual reproductive health services and information in order to stop women from dying in the course of bringing forth new life, to empower women and girls to choose freely and for themselves, if, when and how often to get pregnant, ant to protect the rights and dignity of young people to enable them thrive and be the best they can be,” she promised.

She went further, saying that motherhood is often a positive and fulfilling experience, however, “For thousands of women in sub-Saharan Africa, it is associated with suffering, ill health and even death. As a woman and as a mother, I believe every woman has the right to be beautiful, to health, and every woman has the right to support their children achieve their lives potential. It pleases me to know that these concerns are encapsulated in UNFPA’s mandate, to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

“When I produced the movie Dry, I told the story of millions of girls in Africa who are forced to be child brides. I encapsulated in Halima’s tears, the sorrow, pain and health complications that arise from marrying too early and getting pregnant too soon.

“Growing up, I dreamed of so many things and my dreams have become my reality, but so many girls like Halima who die from pregnancy related complications in the film would never know what it feels like to live out their dreams, to see the best of life and live it to the fullest. They would never hear the tales of their children or feel the warmth of their loved ones because they were gone too soon.

“It is my aspiration that access to reproductive health care for women and girls, especially family planning, will be seen not as a blessing to be wished from, but as a human right to be fought for.

“Fought for, not just because of equality, but because we are tired of women dying while giving birth, tired of teenage girls dropping out of school because they got pregnant too early, tired of women not having a choice to decide if, when and how many children they wish to have. I know I am tired of this. This is why I feel honoured to partner with UNFPA and to use my network to make these issues widely known,” Mrs. Linus said.

Mrs Linus with UNFPA officials at the event. PHOTO: Juliet Umeh
Mrs Linus with UNFPA officials at the event.

In his speech, UNFPA deputy resident representative, Dr. Eugene Kongnyuy said: “In scale and severity, maternal mortality is the most neglected tragedy of our time; a tragedy that disproportionately affects developing countries especially those in Africa. The maternal mortality ratio in West and Central Africa for example, is one of the highest in the world, with countries like Chad and Sierra Leone averaging close to 1000 deaths per 100 000 lives birth or Nigeria with 576 deaths per 100,000 live births and accounts for the highest absolute number of maternal mortality in Africa and over 10% of the global maternal deaths burden. Deaths that could be avoided if women had access to basic quality reproductive health care, this means access to family planning, trained health professional with midwifery skills at every childbirth; and timely access to high quality emergency obstetric and new-born care,” he said.

On the modalities Mrs. Linus will put in place to ensure reduction of the sad news of maternal mortality in West and Central Africa, she promised:  “It is said that prevention is better than cure. When people have knowledge or get information about the things they need to know they won’t fall victim. We are creating barriers on some of the issues we face in maternal health and also leveraging on films spinning across Africa. As we have seen the impact film has when people watched them, it gives them different perspectives on the issue. So those are some of the things we will be doing right now. But subsequently, we have other plans that UNFPA has put in place that we are going to implement. We are all going to create more awareness about this issue and educate people more about it,” she said.

Dr. Kongnyuy however observed that some progress have been made in fight against child and maternal mortality but believes that there are room for improvement. “Maternal mortality from 1990 has declined by 41% but more than 55 percent of pregnant women still give birth without any assistance from a skilled health worker and only 12 percent of pregnant women who need emergency obstetric care services receives them. This means a lot of women and adolescent girls are still at risk of dying from pregnancy related condition.

“In addition to maternal mortality, violence against women and girls, including harmful practices like female genital mutilation, gender inequality and economic disenfranchisement, such as girls not going to school are widespread in the region.

“There is a need to raise awareness on these development issues, engage communities and advocate for women and girls at the policy and decision making level.

“Africa countries as well as international community stand to pay a high price if no bold action is taken to invest in the young people and maternal health. The cost of not taking action now on these critical developmental issues means that poverty eradication effort will be undermined, economic growth slowed, inequalities sustained, and countries will miss out on a vast human capital needed to take sustainable development forward in the 21st country.

“While this is role of the government, the mandate of the United Nation Population Fund and an area of interest of many organizations, the role of the community and individual champion cannot be underestimated. In particular, we need high profile public advocate for material health and the rights of young people to reach their full potential in Africa.

“Today, as we celebrate the women and girls in our lives, let us all become champions for their rights, let us raise our voices where theirs cannot be heard, let us fill out the space of gender disparity such that in the sphere of life there is no difference between male and female, boy or girl, men or women because in the end, we were all born equal, we were born perfect,” he said.

The regional director of West and Central Africa, Mabingue Ngom said: “For UNFPA, improving the health and status of women and girls remains a priority, and we will continue to accelerate efforts, by building strategic partnerships to scale-up successful interventions that put young people first, adding that “Our ultimate aim is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

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