Maternal and neonatal health
UNICEF works in public health facilities and with local communities to strengthen maternal and neonatal health services and encourage women to seek medical treatment.
Improving health facilities
UNICEF supports improvements to antenatal, emergency obstetric, postnatal and neonatal care services in 191 public health facilities. These improvements include:
Training to sensitize hospital staff to women’s needs and concerns (including the issue of domestic violence) ensures that the rights and dignity of female patients are respected.
The number of hospitals providing comprehensive birthing facilities is steadily rising, with 84 per cent of UNICEF-supported centres fully-equipped to provide comprehensive obstetric care.
UNICEF-supported health workers educate the community about the danger signs of pregnancy and the importance of seeking help from skilled medical professionals during obstetric emergencies. The number of women giving birth in the care of a skilled health worker increased from 13 per cent in 2004 to 18 per cent in 2007. Though promising, this figure is not sufficient to significantly reduce neonatal and maternal death.
Linking with hospitals
Community health workers encourage women to utilize local health services, by linking them with their local health facility. Women learn that health facilities not only provide emergency treatment, but also continued care and information about best practices for mother and baby health and nutrition.
UNICEF is piloting a community-support system for pregnant and new mothers in six sub-districts. Volunteers from community-support groups visit pregnant women to monitor their status, refer them to the local health facilities and help plan for the birth.
Communities have been quick to adapt to the project. Many of the groups have established funds that local women can draw from to pay for transport to hospital in an obstetric emergency. In other communities, women received money boxes to encourage saving for medical costs and transport. Ensuring emergency transport is one of the most effective interventions in preventing maternal and neonatal death.
Gender and birth
Community support groups also educate the community about a woman’s right to be treated with dignity when seeking treatment, whether this means privacy screens in the labour ward or separate toilets for female patients. Support group volunteers speak to women about their birth experience and the group advocates with the health centre whenever improvements are required.
Recently, UNICEF joined with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to support the Government of Bangladesh in a joint initiative to accelerate improvements to maternal and neonatal survival rates in four districts.