Gov’t, Partners Develop Handbook for Effective Mother and Newborn Health Care in Liberia

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News that the Liberian Government and some of its partners had developed a handbook to guide the activities of health workers as to how services should be delivered to mothers and newborns at the community level, has been highly welcomed by health practitioners in the country.

Health workers and other stakeholders in the sector have termed the initiative a “big relief” for newborns and their mothers as well as health service providers.

It is noticeable in Liberia that inadequately trained health workers and a lack of data and country-specific health literature such as manuals and handbooks, are a big challenge for delivery of effective and efficient health care services in Liberia— especially for mothers and babies in remote and hard to reach areas. 

To remedy this situation (the lack of guideline for service delivery), the Liberia government through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoH&SW) United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), with technical and financial support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has developed a handbook on new-born and child care for community health workers in the country.

On Tuesday February 4, 2014, over 30 community health workers; technical officers from Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), MoHSW; county health directors and MCH officers from UNICEF, WHO, USAID, Save the Children and other NGOs, gathered at the opening of  a three-day workshop at a local resort to field question about and test the new handbook.    

According to organizers, the workshop will sensitize participants about the various interventions or packages on newborn and child care in communities and also highlight its benefits. It will also guide the participants to choose packages that are appropriate to specific county needs and requirements.

Speaking during the opening session in Monrovia, UNICEF Liberia Representative, Sheldon Yett, emphasized skilled front-line health workers as the key for prompt and effective delivery of new-born and child health services in remote and underserved communities.

Rep. Yett said that a trained workforce should be supported with timely supervision and supply of adequate medicines, vaccines and equipment to treat common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, notorious for killing newborn and under five year-olds.

The UNICEF boss noted that, though Liberia has successfully reduced chronic malnutrition from 42 to 36%, almost one-third of under-five child deaths is attributed to malnutrition.

Statistic shows that an estimated 12,000 children still die every year from preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea. This is about 32 children daily.

Mr. Yett noted that in 2013, UNICEF supported the Government of Liberia to further strengthen and expand community health structures in 769 communities by training 230 general Community Health Volunteers (gCHVs) in Maryland and Grand Gedeh counties.

“They were trained on integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) of common childhood illnesses. An additional 315 gCHVs in River Gee and Sinoe counties will be trained during the first quarter of 2014,” he said.

The Assistant Minister of Health for Preventive Services, Tolbert Nyenswah, lauded partners, including UNICEF, who have help tirelessly in ensuring that the document becomes a reality. He enumerated several programs, including Kangaroo Mother Care, and treatment for babies’ cords, initiated by the Ministry of Health to save newborns from preventable diseases.

Minister Nyenswah, who is also the deputy Chief Medical Officer of Liberia, said though the government and its partners have help to drastically reduced newborn and under five mortality rates, they should not be complacent with the achievement so far. Instead, they must ensure that it is brought down to the lowest level.

According to the 2013 Health Management Information System (HMIS), approximately 40% of the estimated 4 million people in Liberia lack access to healthcare, defined as living more than five km from a health facility. UNICEF Liberia is supporting the government to implement high impact and low-cost health interventions especially in the most difficult-to-reach population in impoverished South East Liberia.

At the end of the three-day workshop, it is anticipated that participants will develop an implementation action plan for newborn and child care in communities. The initiative will contribute to the country’s overall goal of accelerating reduction of under-5 child mortality rate as committed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the launch of ‘A Promise Renewed’ initiative in 2013.

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