Improving maternal nutrition and health in the poorest municipality of Zamboanga del Norte
Providing a healthy start to life for every child
It was a typical scorching summer day in Barangay Muñoz when UNICEF reached the barangay (village) health station to meet the pregnant women participating in the First 1,000 Days (F1KD) programme.
The first agenda of the day has several mothers forming a beeline for their monthly prenatal care where they undergo a routine checking of blood pressure, nutritional status, hemoglobin level, and the monitoring of the infant’s heartbeat through a handheld Doppler ultrasound device.
What looks like a seasoned group of health workers doing prenatal check-ups turned out to be the volunteer barangay health workers who recently received training in providing maternal nutrition services. Jenevie Calumpang, 27, the resident midwife, tells us they just started applying their new skills at the start of this year after receiving their training in December 2021.
“We learned everything in the training,” she says. “We’re thankful to UNICEF for giving us the training in the municipality, then they went to the barangays to help with the monitoring of our pregnant.”
The series of training improved their skills in delivering nutrition and health services for the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from conception to the child’s second birthday) such as assessing nutritional status; providing nutrition counselling; infant and young child feeding; micronutrient supplementation; and maternal, newborn and child health care. It is part of the technical assistance from UNICEF and is supported by the Government of Korea through the Korea International Cooperation Agency. The partnership fuels the F1KD programme rolled out by UNICEF in 19 local government units in the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte in Mindanao, and Samar and Northern Samar in Visayas.
Baby steps towards improving maternal nutrition and health
Muñoz is in the Municipality of Siayan. The latest government data show Siayan registering the highest poverty incidence among the municipalities of Zamboanga del Norte. As such, Muñoz is among the 596 barangays classified as geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas in the province – places that are difficult to reach with services and are separated from the rest due to several factors such as poor transportation networks and high poverty rates, to name a few.
Ginalyn Andat, 36, is pregnant with her second child and relies on her small sari-sari (variety) store which was earning a daily net income of 250 pesos (US$5) before the pandemic, but drastically went down to 40 pesos (less than $1). Given the family’s financial situation, she’s grateful that the barangay provides free services.
“I go to the health station to have my prenatal check-up,” she says with profound appreciation. “They also give me vitamins and I listen to lectures on how to take care of my pregnancy.”
Living less than five minutes from the health station, Ginalyn hasn’t missed her monthly check-ups. But Jenevie says it’s a different story for the other pregnant women who live far away.
“Convincing them to go for prenatal check-ups and other health measures during pregnancy is still challenging,” she notes. “We have to reach out to them and show them that they’re important so that we can convince them to come here and give birth in our facility.” The municipality has passed an ordinance in 2011 prohibiting home birth, requiring women to give birth in a health facility. According to Department of Health records, Siayan reported 112 home births in 2021 compared to 127 in 2020.
“More pregnant women are now encouraged to give birth in our facility,” she says, proud of the work that she and her team have done. “They like that there is a maternal home near the Siayan Diagnostic and Health Care Birthing Center where they can stay for free a few days, even weeks, before giving birth.”
As for Ginalyn, she’s confident that her child will come out healthy despite her earlier misgivings about getting pregnant at her advanced age – 17 years after having her first child.
“I gave birth to my first child at home but for this one, I will be in Diagnostic,” she assures us. “I will also breastfeed my baby because breastmilk will keep it strong and healthy.”