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Pilot project brings success to maternal and newborn care in Ferghana, Uzbekistan

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2008/Pirozzi
A mother holds her newborn at a baby-friendly hospital, Tashkent Perinatal Center, Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

By Matthew Taylor

FERGHANA REGION, Uzbekistan, 10 July 2008 - Guzalkhon Karabaeva is constantly smiling. Her newborn son is tranquil in her arms and so is the maternity ward in which we sit. No babies’ cries interrupt our chat - a clear testament to attentive childcare.

“I feel like I’m in a family environment,” she says. And she looks the part. In blue flowered slippers and soft blue pyjamas, she gently bounces her baby son. She is allowed to wear her own clothes here, and has her baby right by her side. However, the experiences were far different for her first two pregnancies.

This is the Ferghana Regional Maternity Centre, pilot location for the Newborn Survival Project supported by UNICEF and the Government. With an aim at improving Uzbekistan’s maternal and child healthcare, the pilot ensures that participating facilities become better equipped to handle maternal and newborn emergencies, and physicians and nurses receive adequate training in order to improve their knowledge and skills.

Since its launch, there has been a significant reduction in newborn deaths – largely due to birth asphyxia, a major cause of death has fallen consistently between 2003 to 2006. Clinics in the region used to employ low-skilled staff. Now, fully-trained staff are working both day and night.

Guzalkhon’s first sons were born in Andijon city in 1995 and 1998. Fachrideen and Jaladeen arrived in the world in a far more traumatic way than their newborn brother.

The Andijon staff administered numerous injections - without explanation. Guzalkhon was deeply afraid, thinking she had contracted a serious disease. The ward she stayed in was crowded - two other women were also there to give birth. Her relatives were not allowed to visit. And she was separated from her newborn - they took him to another room with other babies. “‘I was alone and terrified that our babies would be swapped,” Guzalkhon recalls.

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2008/Pirozzi
A newborn at a baby-friendly hospital, Tashkent Perinatal Center, Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Caregivers fed her sons irregularly. They wrapped Fachrideen up so tightly in blankets, Guzalkhon thought he would suffocate. In his first few weeks, he vomited a lot. The staff mixed breast milk with sugar and tap water.

But this time things are completely different. Loosely wrapped in a soft green blanket, her third son enjoys pure, unsoiled breast milk for as long as he needs. Guzalkhon says she received detailed instructions on the benefits of breastfeeding: A mother’s breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs.

She notes that drugs were used far less this time. When she did get one, she would receive patient explanations from the staff on why she needed the shot. Unlike before, the baby is fed regularly and for as long as is necessary.

"Personal details have made big differences," she says. "My own clothes, my own room and having my sister close by when I gave birth made me much more relaxed."

To benefit more mothers and babies, lessons learned in Ferghana will soon be incorporated across health facilities in Uzbekistan. With support from the European Union, UNICEF and the Government plan to train more health workers, particularly in the field of neo-natal care and emergency obstetrics.

For Guzalkhon, her biggest worry now is to come up with a name for her buddle of joy, who is now sleeping peacefully in her arms.



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