Photo: Jonathan Hymes/Save the Children
Mamie, thirty two, begins her three hour walk home after giving birth to her son Darius the day before at the clinic in Peterstown, Margibi county, Liberia. Pregnant women and mothers in some rural parts of Liberia have to walk up to eight hours to reach the nearest health clinic. Maternal waiting homes, some supported by international partners including Save the Children, provide pregnant women like Mamie with a place to stay in their final week before delivery.
“Equity needs to be the heart of what we are doing. We need to be doing more to reach the most vulnerable communities and ensure that members in the communities have access to better newborn and child care.”
These words by UNICEF Representative Sheldon Yett rang out at a recent workshop held for community health workers, county health directors, senior health ministry officials and programme staff in Monrovia, Liberia.
This diverse group of public health practitioners were there to learn about the new UNICEF handbook for newborn and child health and how they could implement some of its recommended practices in their own communities. Importantly, infection prevention and management along with Kangaroo Mother Care were part of the discussion. Neonatal infections now account for 28 percent of all newborn deaths in Liberia.
In 2011, it is estimated that 13 percent of all the under five deaths in Liberia occured on the day a baby was born. Stregthening the quality and impact of newborn care is thus very important for helping to reduce mortality and morbidity. One of the county health directors in attendance said that the handbook will be important for strengthening Integrated Community Case Managment (iCCM) interventions.
With the annual rate of newborn mortality reduction moving from 1.64 percent from 1990-2000 to 4.02 percent from 2000-2012, Liberia is certainly making progress. We must keep in mind, and use as motivation, that newborn mortality now accounts for a larger percentage of under five deaths than it did in 1990. Last summer’s commitment to A Promise Renewed was an important milestone for attention and resources for newborn and child health. Based on the excitement and commitment of all those at the workshop, this momentum has not waned and has brought even more involvement across the country to address this issue.