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Specialist volunteer training gives pregnant women hope

© UNICEF/2011/Naser Siddique
A mother’s meeting is held in Paik Para village, Thakurgaon and run by a Maternal Health Volunteer who was trained as part of a UNICEF-supported initiative.
By Jeannette Francis

Thakurgaon, Bangladesh, 25 July 2011: Shipli Rani enters her Community Health Clinic holding what looks like a bundle of blankets. She begins to gently unwrap the layers of cloth to reveal a tiny baby boy, sleeping soundly. “He was delivered six days ago at this clinic,” says Shilpi, looking around the small, ordered room “We haven’t decided on a name for him yet.”

Shilpi has come to the clinic to receive a check-up from a lady affectionately known in the community as Doctor Apa, which means ‘Madam Doctor’. Her actual name is Sova Rani and she’s a Community Skilled Birth Attendant, the only one in the Paik Para village in the Thakurgaon district in north-west Bangladesh.

Mid last year, Sovawas one of only 17 women from the district selected to take part in a 6-months government training initiative at a prestigious hospital close to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Her training was part of the joint UN Maternal and Neonatal Health (MNH) initiative run by UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA.

Prior to receiving the government training, Sova was a Maternal Health Volunteer, trained in maternal and neonatal care by the MNH initiative. However, the specialised government training has given her the credentials necessary to deliver babies; a skill highly sought after across the country.

According to the Bangladesh Maternal Mortality and Health Service Survey 2010, the maternal mortality rate has dropped by 40 per cent since 2001 and while the survey showed a significant increase in the number of women accessing facilities to give birth,those using skilled birth attendants during home deliveries remained low.

This is partly due to a lack of skilled birth attendants in rural villages; a need the MNH initiative seeks to address in order to make a difference to the lives of women, like Shilpi, who before Sova, had no access to a skilled birth attendant. 

© UNICEF/2011/Naser Siddique
Shilpi Rani, 22, holds her six-day-old son at her Community Health Clinic in Paik Para village, Thakurgaon. During the birth of her first child Shilpi had no skilled birth attendant present, only a neighbour.
Shilpi and her husband, SreeKantho Barman, already have one son, aged five, but like many rural women in Bangladesh, Sheonly had a neighbour present to help her through her first labour. “I was less nervous with the birth of my second son than I was with my first because I felt Sovaknew exactly what she was doing.”

Shilpi’s infant son was the second baby to be delivered at the clinic since it reopened after a two year hiatus in March 2011. With Sova at its helm, the clinic has been revitalised with new bedding and equipment, thanks to the MNH initiative and is ready to service the pregnant women in the village.

“I’m not nervous or scared to deliver babies here,” says Sova. ”I’ve delivered babies before and I’ve had extensive training so I know how to deal with complications and when to refer up.” 

While Sovamay be one of the few Skilled Birth Attendants in Thakurgaon, there are more than 300 women, trained under the MNH initiative, who are Maternal Health Volunteer under the project supported by UK AID and the European Union. They all took part in a 5-day training course, which covered breastfeeding, thermal care, pregnancy danger signs, check-up processes and referral methods.

Their role is to ensure all the pregnant and lactating women in her community are registered; to visit them regularly and to conduct information sessions on maternal,new-born and infant health. 

Less than 300 metres from the Community Health Clinic, a mother’s group meeting is taking place and around 20 pregnant and lactating women are listening as another Community Health Volunteer, Shorifa Begum, explains the correct way to breastfeed. The women meet every month to talk about various health issues and clarify any questions they may have. 

For some of the women, it’s their first pregnancy and they say they’re comforted to know that with Sova Rani’s skills and the free health clinic around the corner, they’re better looked after.

This project is funded by UK AID and the European Union



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