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How midwives make a difference for children and mothers

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/06
Navodhya recovered from a cleft palate after her parents were helped by a midwife

UNICEF-supported manual for differently abled children tested in the field

“I know all the children and mothers in my area” says Gunanawathie, a public health midwife in Bulathsinhala in southern Sri Lanka. During her home visits, she provides basic medical services and advice to pregnant mothers, young children and mothers in this tea plantation area.

The stories of Payani and Navodhya, as narrated by the Gunanawathie, illustrate the immense contribution midwives can make to family community health.

“When Payani was one and half years old, her mother noticed the baby had difficulties walking and talking” the Gunanawathie explains. “I urged the mother to take her to the Children’s Hospital in Colombo immediately”. And there sadly delays in her development were discovered.”

“Payani’s mother was terrified and became very protective. She did not want Payani to play outside and was afraid to let her do anything alone.”

Although Gunanawathie did not know how to scientifically stimulate and enhance the full potential of children with disabilities at that time, she spontaneously encouraged the mother to let Payani play and learn as she liked. Gunanawathie increased her home visits, played with Payani, and even helped her to ride a bicycle.

“It was difficult for the mother to believe what I was doing for Payani, but when she finally rode a bike by herself, she was convinced that her daughter had tremendous potential to develop herself.” Gunanawathie said.

“Thanks to Gunanawathie’s care and concern now Payani now attends pre-school’ boasted Sunitha, Payani’s mother.

In the next house lived little Navodhya with her mother Dinusha. The midwife remembers the first home visit to Navodhya’s house. Dinusha was crying since Navodhya had a cleft palate. The town hospital said that Navodhya would have to undergo a series of operations after three months when she would be strong enough to endure them. Observing Navodhya struggling to drink her mother’s milk Gunanawathie told the mother, “You should take Navodhya to the Children’s Hospital in Colombo right away.”

The midwife immediately referred them to the Children’s Hospital, where Dinusha received special instructions on how to take care of Navodhya. Three months later, Navodhya was fit enough for the operations. Now her lips look just fine and the scars of the operations are hardly seen.

“One more operation to go, and it will be over”, Dinusha said happily.

UNICEF’s Early Childhood Care and Development Programme promotes an integral care approach to ensure holistic development of young children. With the support of the Ministry of Health, midwives throughout the country, like Gunawathie, have been trained to ensure the well-being of young children and mothers.

Practical manuals, medical equipment and bicycles are also provided to midwives. The manuals for children with disabilities for field health workers were developed through UNICEF’s support, and Gunanawathie was one of the six midwives who participated in the field-testing of the manuals in the area.

“This manual and training is new, very useful with many practical suggestions on how to stimulate children with disabilities. But I also realized that I have done many things already that this manual suggests is correct. Now I can work more confidently with children with disabilities using this manual” says Gunanawathie.



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