India gives resounding support for safe motherhood initiatives
‘Safe Motherhood Day’ which is observed on the 11th of April every year, was marked by two events in India, in which UNICEF played a key role.
The Government of India in collaboration with The White Ribbon Alliance (WRAI) for Safe Motherhood (of which UNICEF is an active member), organized a national stakeholders’ meeting, in the capital Delhi, to discuss the pressing priorities in relation to women’s health.
And at another event, UNICEF in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Health Fitness Trust organised an ‘Awareness Run’, also in Delhi, for school children on issues relating to safe motherhood.
Dr. Marzio Babille, Chief of Health for UNICEF India, who took part in the national stakeholders meeting, said the country’s focus should be on a life-cycle approach to women’s health. An approach that takes into account both the specific and cumulative effects of poor health and nutrition rather than a piece-meal approach that focuses on women only when they are faced with a health crisis.
He said, UNICEF believes in addressing women during their adolescence, when reproductive and other lifestyle behaviours set the stage for later life. This is because inadequate diet during the adolescent years leads to anaemia or stunting, which in turn contributes to complications in childbirth and underweight babies.
Quality antenatal care, deliveries attended by skilled attendants, an increased proportion of institutional deliveries and home visits immediately after delivery and within the first ten days of birth have a significant impact on the health of women and their newborn babies, he added.
The highlight of the day was the release of the ‘Standards, Guidelines and Protocols for Maternal and Child Health’ by the Secretary, Family Welfare and Health, written with the support of WRAI members.
The publication and proposed implementation of these guidelines is being heralded as a landmark in the history of midwifery in India. The guidelines are envisioned to not only empower midwives with advanced skills that will help save mother’s lives, but also help scale up and enhance their professional competency, credibility and status.
At the second event, UNICEF in partnership with WHO and the Health Fitness Trust organised an ‘Awareness Run’ by school children that was flagged off by India’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss.
On the occasion, Mr. Eimar Barr, representing UNICEF, drew attention to the urgent need to save the lives of mothers dying due to pregnancy related complications and childbirth.
It is estimated that for every 100,000 live births in India, up to 407 mothers, die. Infant mortality in India is 63 deaths per 1,000 live births with around 47 per cent of infant deaths occurring in the first week of life.These numbers, Mr Barr said, add up to millions of lives of mothers and children that can be easily saved with cost-effective, proven solutions once they are made more widely available.
This includes simple and timely measures such as breastfeeding the newborn within half an hour of birth, continuing to breastfeed exclusively for six months, keeping the baby adequately warm and ensuring that the baby is fully immunised.