By Savita Varde-Naqvi
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, 24 November 2010 – Improving maternal and child health services is a key priority for the Government of Uzbekistan, and UNICEF and European Union support is helping – as highlighted during an EU delegation’s visit to the country last week.
|VIDEO: 16 November 2010 - UNICEF reports on a visit by a European Union delegation led by EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs to Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent. Watch in RealPlayer|
In Tashkent, the five-member delegation, led by EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, heard from regional health professionals who are receiving funding through the Mother and Child Health Project, an innovative programme now being piloted in eight regions of the country. Central to the project is the training and mentoring of health providers in low-cost, high-impact techniques.
More than 13,000 health professionals – including doctors, nurses, midwives and health managers – have been trained through the project. Messages promoting maternal health and child care have reached about 14.5 million people in the pilot regions, comprising more than half the country’s population.
“With the training we received in child survival and newborn care, we made sure to vaccinate and take care of 35,000 children who came into the Ferghana Valley with the refugee influx from Kyrgyzstan in June this year,” said Dr. Abdumalik Rahmanov, chief physicians at the Namangan Regional Children’s Hospital in eastern Uzbekistan.
Access to health services
Making effective and inexpensive health services accessible to children and mothers is crucial if Uzbekistan is to achieve UN Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 – which call for reducing child mortality and improving maternal health – by the MDGs’ 2015 target date.
|© UNICEF Uzbekistan/ 2010/Irismetov|
|Uzbek Ministry of Health staff and medical professionals with European Union delegation members, including EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs (front row centre), flanked by Minister of Health Prof. Adham Ikramov, UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Jean-Michel Delmotte and Deputy Minister of Health Prof. A Kamilov.|
Dr. Habibo Ibragimova runs a paediatric centre in Jizzak, one of the Mother and Child Health Project’s pilot regions. She said the benefits of the project have been immediate. Newborn deaths due to asphyxia have gone down and overall infection control has considerably improved. With children being treated more effectively and efficiently, the length of hospital stays has also been reduced, saving families and hospitals considerable money. “It is less stressful for everyone,” said Dr. Eshmuradov.
Another doctor from the region, Dr. Kochkor Eshmuradov, noted that he and his colleagues had been won over to the project after some initial hesitation.
“A lot of us were skeptical, but after seeing positive outcomes of an integrated management approach to childhood illnesses, it became evident that we badly needed a surge of new knowledge and techniques,” he said. “I graduated some 35 years ago, and can tell you that a lot has changed in medical science since then.”
Partnership and equity
In addition to UNICEF and the EU, the project’s other partners include the World Health Organization, USAID and GTZ, an international development agency based in Germany. This support – and a focus on remote and impoverished areas of Uzbekistan – have been key to ensuring success.
|© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2010/Irismetov|
|Dr. Hari Krishna Banskota, maternal and child health specialist (left) and EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs talk about outreach materials used to take primary health care to rural families in Uzbekistan.|
UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Jean-Michel Delmotte highlighted partnership and equity as the two main axes along which the Mother and Child Health Project is built. “This joint project … enables us to implement a strategy that concentrates on the hard-to-reach and the poorest communities, making it, in fact, more cost-effective than focusing on the most accessible,” he explained.
The EU has already agreed to a second phase of the project, which will concentrate on promoting positive household practices in child care, nutrition, health and hygiene, as well as teaching families to recognize ‘danger signs’ in children’s health.
From the EU’s standpoint, Mr. Piebalgs thinks Uzbekistan’s efforts are leading the way. “Maternal and child health is not a one-time intervention. It requires an ongoing development of the health system,” he said. “We can use this example in other countries, especially in the rural areas to create a win-win situation for all.”