Health News of Sunday, 30 September 2012
Source: Mathias Aboba
Story by: Mathias Aboba: Bolgatanga
A program known as Essential Newborn Care (ENC), designed to give attention and find lasting solution to deaths among newborns in the Upper East region has been launched by the Ghana Health Service in Bolgatanga. Newborn deaths also known as neonatal mortality is one of the critical health issues which the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Health have been struggling to contain over the years. The Essential New Born Care (ENC) program is a one year pilot program to be implemented in the Bawku West District, Kassena-Nankana, Bolgatanga and Bawku Municipalities. It is being funded by the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF). The objective of the program is to strengthen strategies of care in the neonatal stage of life or the period covering the first 28 days of the life of a newborn baby.
The launching ceremony was attended by Chiefs, Queen mothers, Traditional Birth Attendants, Traditional healers, leaders of youth and women groups as well as health experts from UNICEF and the Ghana Health Service. Addressing participants at the ceremony, the Regional Director of Health Service Dr John Koku Awoonor-Williams said if the Ministry of Health, the Ghana Health Service, development partners and all key stakeholders in health in the country do not put in more efforts in newborn care than they are currently doing the country will continue to lose the very children who would otherwise have lived and grow up to be become leaders of the country in the future and to propel the nation forward in development. Dr. Awoonor said it is high time the nation stopped paying lip services to child health care and rise up in support and initiate programs to give attention to the survival and development of children.
The Regional Director disclosed that the situation of child mortality in the country is so alarming and indicated that children in Ghana are ten times more likely to die before the age of five than children from any developed country. He hinted that statistic from the Ghana Demographic Health Survey (GDHS) indicates 57,000 children under the age of five in the country die every year. 38,000 of these children he revealed actually die before the age of one with 40% of the deaths occurring within the neonatal stage or the period covering the first 28 days in the life of the new born.
He said, what is more disturbing about the situation is the fact that evidence shows 70 % of child mortality is preventable through various basic interventions both within health institutions and at the community level. He said the major causes of mortality in newborns are pneumonia, septicaemia, diarrhoea, asphyxia and tetanus. Dr Awoonor mentioned exclusive breast feeding, vitamin A supplementation and vaccination as some of the good practices which are known to contribute greatly to child survival, growth and development.
Dr Awoonor was of the opinion that the Ghana Health Service cannot do it all alone and there is therefore the urgent need for Chiefs and Queen Mothers, the youth and women leaders as well as institutions including the Ministry of Women and Children, District and Municipal Assemblies, Department of Community Development, Department of Social Welfare, Private and Non-Governmental Organizations to take a second look at the alarming rate of child mortality in the country and consider making new commitments towards contributing for significant reduction in child particularly neonatal mortality.
According to him, the pilot newborn care program will be scaled up to the rest of the region by the end of 2013. He indicated that already three districts in the region namely Bongo, Builsa and Garu-Tempane districts are benefiting from a similar intervention under the Ghana Essential Health Intervention Program (GEHIP).
Throwing more light on the program, Mr. Emmanuel Ayire, a Senior Nursing Officer at the Regional Health Directorate said, the ENC program is setting up and equipping Neonatal Intensive Care Units at the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital and some district hospitals. The program will also provide skills training in newborn care for health staff and make available essential logistics for newborn care in key facilities in the pilot districts. It will also use various strategies and platforms to sensitise stakeholders and solicit support for community action and advocacy on newborn care in the region.
The chairman of the occasion Mr. G.M Bozie, blamed community leaders in the region for failing to make land available for the citing of health projects. He said, currently some health facilities in the region are receiving low community patronage due to superstition being peddled around that pregnant women who visited these facilities had miscarriages believed to be caused by some bad spirits from old cemeteries located near these facilities. Mr. Bozzie was sad that dangerous superstitions such as this were still common in some communities. He said in spite of education on the scientific basis of deformities in children some communities still believe in the “spirit child phenomenon” and stigmatise parents of deformed children leading to such children being abandoned and others killed. He therefore appealed to traditional authorities in these communities to act swiftly to stem all such dangerous superstitions.
Dr. Geoffrey Acaye, Head of Nutrition, UNICEF, Tamale Office commended health authorities in the region for reducing neonatal mortality rate to 7 per 1000 live birth (2010), a figure far below the national rate of 35 per 1000 live birth. He contended that it was proper to intensify home-based newborn care strategies and create strong linkages between health facilities and the home to effectively handle risk factors which often lead to deaths.