Strong Communities Start with Maternal and Child Health
“I am now an example in my community. I am so happy my babies survived.”
– Sifati, Program Participant, Malawi
Access to quality maternal, newborn and child healthcare is not equal across or within countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 99% of those deaths occurring in developing countries.
For over 50 years, PCI has been committed to promoting maternal, newborn, and child health through its integrated, community-driven programs focused on health promotion and disease prevention. Our success is driven by our commitment to addressing the root causes and social drivers of poor health outcomes, barriers to behavior change and access to quality services, and leveraging the power inherent in the communities where we work.
- Since 2010, PCI has been addressing the needs of vulnerable children in Malawi through organizing and maintaining Care Groups for caregivers of these children. In 2017, these Care Groups empowered over 70,000 families through peer-to-peer education in maternal and child health with a focus on infant and young child feeding; water, sanitation and hygiene; management of childhood illnesses like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea, and reproductive health.
- In India, as part of PCI’s Parivartan project, PCI formed self-help groups among the most vulnerable communities in Bihar, India, and reached a total of 7.6 million women with social and behavior change support for improved maternal, newborn, and child health practices, which includes support for accessing and utilizing essential services. PCI continues to support families in its role as health, nutrition, and sanitation technical lead for a large government-owned community development project in Bihar, India. The goal is to reach more than 12 million women and impact approximately 60 million family members by 2019.
- Since its inception in 2000, PCI’s integrated Casa Materna (Mother’s House) project in rural Guatemala has benefited more than 79,000 vulnerable women, adolescents, and their families, increased survival of low birth weight and premature newborns, and contributed to a reduction in maternal deaths. In 2016, Casa Materna provided inpatient services to 1,245 beneficiaries while 437 adolescents received sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education, 127 of which directly accessed youth-friendly SRH counseling and services.
Collaborating with Communities to Make Health a Reality
PCI’s comprehensive programming places individuals, families, and communities at the center of our approach to improving the health of women, babies, and children when they need it most. We work together to holistically—along the life cycle and continuum of care—address risks, vulnerabilities, and challenges rather than focus on a particular disease or health issue. Working at the community level engages people in a process of discovery and empowerment, helping them to understand and own the challenges they face and how best to implement the most effective solutions. This process builds sustainability, because community members are included as both the co-authors and ultimate owners of all of PCI’s programs. Communities then serve as the ongoing custodians of the knowledge, skills, and approaches they have learned, ensuring that these maternal and child health practices live on past the end of our programming and that their families continue to grow healthier and stronger because of them.
Supporting Mothers and Giving Newborns the Best Start
Nestled in the mountains of the rural Huehuetenango province of Guatemala, Casa Materna is a PCI-run maternal waiting home where pregnant women, especially those with high risk pregnancies, receive the high quality, respectful care they need to mitigate complications, have a safe delivery, and receive safe, supportive, and respectful postpartum care needed by both mothers and newborns.
Hortensia Garcia was only 22 years old and pregnant for the fifth time when she first came to Casa Materna. Her previous four pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. She learned about the clinic through a PCI outreach worker who encouraged women in her village to use the maternal and child health services available there. After visiting Casa Materna with her husband when she was seven months pregnant, Hortensia made the decision to stay as an in-patient until her baby was born. She received daily attention from a gynecologist and staff members and eventually delivered a healthy baby girl who now receives regular check-ups.
Ensuring access to quality and respectful health services and promoting behavior change for good maternal, newborn and child health is vital to building strong families and communities. Unfortunately, an alarming number of mothers and newborns still die or experience morbidity during childbirth and immediately following birth because they can’t get the care they need to survive and thrive.
In addition, poor health outcomes can be attributed to a range of underlying factors such as malnutrition, domestic violence, and lack of education. As a result, many families and communities face emotional devastation and a variety of economic, social, and health-related costs. Hence PCI, in addition to linking pregnant women to and providing high quality maternity services, addresses the underlying causes of poor maternal and newborn health outcomes by promoting good nutrition during pregnancy, by promoting women’s education, as well as through PCI’s male engagement strategies that encourage shared household decision-making and improved communication between partners. Specifically, PCI works to ensure that mothers and families have the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to have successful pregnancies and care for their newborns by:
- Providing education around and support for Kangaroo Mother Care, which promotes skin-to-skin contact to ensure newborns get the warmth, food and support they need to survive and thrive;
- Mobilizing women into self-help groups in India and into Care Groups in Malawi, Bangladesh, and Liberia to support a continuum of care by building social support, providing targeted behavior change communication, linking women and families to services, and empowering participants to become leaders in promoting health, sanitation and nutrition within their communities;
- Building the capacity of community health workers to promote maternal, newborn, and child health in their communities, including linking families to essential services and providing follow-up care at the household level; and
- Collaborating with other organizations on Every Preemie – SCALE to catalyze action for improved health among pregnant women and early/small newborns.
Women’s health is a comprehensive issue, affecting and affected by mental, social, and economic well-being. Therefore, across countries and programs, PCI links women and families to platforms such as PCI’s Women Empowered savings and lending groups as a way for women to generate the income they need to care for themselves and their families and as a space for women to discuss and address group-driven social issues that impact the well-being of their communities.
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Helping Children Reach Their Fifth Birthday and Beyond
According to WHO, 5.6 million children died before age 5 in 2016. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of nearly half of these deaths each year and is therefore an important focus area for us. We work to counter some of the key contributors to malnutrition, such as:
- Lack of access to nutritious foods;
- Poor breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, including low rates of exclusive breastfeeding and lack of dietary diversity;
- Poor hygiene practices and prevalence of infectious diseases;
- Poor child stimulation and responsive, nurturing care practices.
Pregnancy through the first two years of a child’s life – also known as the first 1,000 days – are critical for cognitive development and the long-term health and well-being of children. PCI works with communities to ensure families are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to make the most of this critical time period for child health and development.
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