Cross-posted from the Jacaranda Health blog
Joyce*, a healthy mother, glows as she admires her new baby. Her husband collects her belongings as she prepares to leave Jacaranda Maternity, and she hugs the community health worker who provided her discharge education: “See you in a few days,” she says. Most health care providers in Kenya – or across the developing world –would schedule a new mother’s six week postnatal visit, hope she returns for it, and call it a day. Jacaranda thinks otherwise.
In the past decade there have been significant resources invested in pre-natal healthcare in resource-poor settings: expectant women are encouraged to attend four antenatal care visits, receive nutrition training, and are linked to malaria and HIV treatment. However, we have all too often ignored the most vulnerable part of the maternity experience: The postnatal period. Approximately 75% of neonatal deaths occur in the first week after delivery and in Kenya alone, 31 newborn deaths occur per 1,000 live births.
It’s not as if the evidence for how to close this gap is lacking: Research from countries like Bangladesh, Ghana, Nepal and Malawi has shown that community-based early postpartum care in the first week after delivery has great potential to increase newborn survival and reduce death. Contact with trained health workers can improve early initiation of breastfeeding, thermal care, infection prevention and clean umbilical cord care – all practices that can save newborns’ lives. However, there are still too many babies dying in the few days after birth, and new mothers often find it difficult – if not impossible – to recognize danger signs when she takes her new baby home. If we can get hands-on education and care to women in the critical first few days after delivery, we can cut down on delays in seeking care and reduce the risk of newborn death.
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