May 20, 2011
Maternal and child health in Pakistan received a much needed boost from the nationwide health week. Through their initiative, UNICEF and partners promoted health education and immunisation among mothers and children.
Mothers and children across Pakistan received a much-needed health boost recently, thanks to the nationwide bi-annual Mother and Child Health Week.
The week – aimed at improving maternal health and child survival in a country where almost one in every 10 children dies before the age of five – took place across all districts of Pakistan, enabling the delivery of a package of high-impact, low-cost child survival interventions.
The special health week – held every April and October – is run by the Ministry of Health’s National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Health Care, with the support of UNICEF and other partners. It comes as a welcome move for mothers across Pakistan, many of whom are coping with a life of poverty and still dealing with the after-effects of the devastating floods that struck last summer.
During the initiative, community-based social mobilisation activities helped millions of mothers to recognise the value of good health and hygiene for both themselves and their children. These include safe delivery practices, exclusive breastfeeding up to six months, adequate nutrition and preventing disease.
Children received vital health interventions such as immunisations and de-worming medicines, while pregnant women were offered tetanus vaccinations. In addition, iron tablets were provided to pregnant and lactating women to prevent anaemia.
Mothers were also counselled on home-based treatments for diarrhoea and given information about gaining access to basic community health services.
UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Dan Rohrmann, who witnessed health week activities in Punjab, said that the success of the initiative hinged on empowered and dedicated community health staff, including women health workers, as well as strong community engagement.
“What we have seen today is all these elements coming together in a highly spirited and joyful event that involved everyone, including the children themselves,” he said.
In Punjab alone, some 6.5 million families took part in the health-related activities. Across the province, more than 26,600 children were vaccinated and nearly 5.5 million children between the ages of two and five were administered de-worming tablets.
UNICEF and partners continue to support the Government of Punjab to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality by introducing 24-hour health services in existing facilities. This gives pregnant women access to better ante-natal and post-natal care, as well as to assisted childbirth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An estimated 20,000 mothers die as a result of preventable pregnancy and child birth-related issues.
“Pakistan is facing a dire situation around maternal health and child survival. Nearly one out of every 10 children dies before his or her fifth birthday, with children up to one month of age at highest risk,” Rohrmann explained. “These statistics are shocking because they represent the lives of hundreds of thousands of children under-five snuffed out before they even had a chance at life.”
A key challenge facing the country is the urgent need to scale up health services to reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Eradicating polio – for which reported cases continue to rise – and addressing the multiple crises in nutrition, sanitation and education are among the priorities.
Mother and Child Health Week began as a pilot project in 2007 and has itself since been scaled up to national level. Its success is one of the ways the Government of Pakistan, UNICEF and other partners continue progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals in health, and making a visible and profound change for children.