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New approach to newborn child survival puts family needs front and centre

UNICEF Image: Argentina, child survival
© UNICEF video/2009
In Buenos Aires, Estela Benitez recently gave birth to her first child, a healthy girl named Abril Delfina, and her husband was with her every step of the way.

By Thomas Nybo

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, 20 July 2009 – Estela Benitez recently gave birth to her first child, a healthy girl named Abril Delfina.

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She lives in the Boedo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, where she is benefitting from a new model of neo- and post-natal care at the Hospital Ramón Sarda. The hospital’s programme places more attention on the needs of the family than other maternal health facilities traditionally have done.

Ms. Benitez’s husband was welcome at every step of the process, including the delivery, and great efforts are being made to strengthen their bond with Abril.

"The moment Abril came out, they put her against my body so I could hold her and kiss her. Then they let my husband hold her, even before they cut the umbilical cord," said Ms. Benitez.

Family-centred childbirth

At the hospital, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed, and new parents have 24-hour access to their newborn child. Special days are set aside to allow other family members to meet the new addition to the family. Before family members meet the child, they're given a briefing on what to expect, especially when dealing with premature babies or those with severe health challenges.

Dr. Miguel Larguia, who has been with the hospital for 40 years, is the person responsible for the new approach.

"The concept of family-centred hospitals is a real change of paradigm because we now recognize as the owners of the house, not the medical doctors or the health agents, but the pregnant mothers and their babies," he said.

UNICEF Image: Argentina, child survival
© UNICEF video/2009
This baby boy was delivered 13 weeks early, but his mother was able to stay in a special on-site residence free of charge as part of a programme for mothers with at-risk children at Hospital Ramón Sarda in Buenos Aires.

Free residential care 

To further reduce the level of infant mortality, the hospital is dedicating significant resources to premature newborns and other at-risk infants.

Cinthia Pintos delivered a baby boy 13 weeks early. He spent a month and a half in an incubator while struggling with a trachea infection, but he's now doing well.

"I handled this situation well, because all of the doctors were very honest with me and told me the truth," said the baby's mother.

Because Ms. Pintos lives more than a day's journey from the hospital, she's taking advantage of a programme here that allows mothers of at-risk children to stay in a special on-site residence, free of charge, until their babies are discharged. The mothers are given free meals and also assisted by a team of volunteers.

There's room for 38 mothers at the residence, and they stay an average of two months.

An effective new approach

UNICEF is working to replicate this successful programme on a massive scale.

"This model includes practices that have been shown to be effective in preventing neo-natal mortality," said UNICEF Health Specialist Zulma Ortiz. "And all of them are based specifically in the relationship between the mother and the son or the daughter – and also the whole family – so the idea is to promote the implementation of this strategy all over the world."

Two thirds of neonatal and young child deaths – over 6 million deaths each year – are preventable. Supporting programmes like this one is an efficient, cost-effective way to help children survive.




UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on child care health reforms in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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