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Hospitals friendly to newborns and their mothers are widely realized in Cuba

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Post-delivery care is one of the hallmarks of child- and mother-friendly hospitals like the General Camilo Cienfuegos Provincial Hospital in Sancti Spíritus, Cuba.

By David Koch

SANCTI SPÍRITUS, Cuba, 17 March 2010 – With a history of poverty and political strife, Cubans have experienced much deprivation over the years. But access to basic services, such as healthcare, is available to all – especially children – whose first right is to the best start in life.

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In 1991, Cuba ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which states that nations “shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.” And the country vigorously defends a children’s right to health, and hospitals friendly to newborns and their mothers cover the island.

“I think that Cuba is one of the countries where CRC is most widely realized, which means that there are many public policies in place to guarantee children’s development,” said José Juan Ortiz Brú, UNICEF Representative in Cuba. “Undoubtedly, the reach and quality of child- and mother-friendly hospitals in Cuba sets one of the highest standards in the world.”

Breastfeeding to the fore

Post-delivery care is one of the hallmarks of child- and mother-friendly hospitals like the General Camilo Cienfuegos Provincial Hospital in Sancti Spíritus, the capital of the province of the same name.

“During the first 48 hours, we ensure that the mother is always by the child’s side, that she breastfeeds him or her on demand over the first 15 minutes of the child’s life,” explained Dr. Gladys Figueredo Echagüe, Deputy Director of the hospital’s maternity ward. “We ensure that the families participate in this process, and ensure that 98 per cent of our newborns are sent home breastfeeding exclusively.”

Despite such practices, some experts believe that breastfeeding among Cuban mothers is declining slightly due to an increased reliance on powdered formula.

In response, UNICEF is working with the Government and the Pan American Health Organization to re-launch past breastfeeding campaigns.

“We’re also trying to re-establish breastfeeding for six-months, which was once a common practice, but is no longer widespread,” said Mr. Ortiz Brú.

Skin-to-skin care for at-risk newborns

Underweight infants benefit from a different child- and mother-friendly intervention at General Camilo Cienfuegos hospital.

Babies weighing between 1.5 and 2 kilograms at birth − and had lower than normal gestation periods − are admitted to the hospital’s ‘skin-to-skin’ ward. There, children remain hospitalized with their mothers, living in close physical contact with them – or ‘skin-to-skin.’ The practice serves as an alternative to an incubator, and provides infants with a better connection to mother and family.

Interventions like the ‘skin-to-skin’ model demonstrate a commitment to providing children with the healthy start envisioned by the CRC. According to Mr. Ortiz Brú, this is a major component of protecting children on a wider scale.

“I believe that Cuba is an excellent model regarding the protection and best interests of the child,” he said.




October 2009: UNICEF correspondent Eduardo Cure reports on Cuba’s success in establishing child- and mother-friendly hospitals.
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