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Health News of Saturday, 30 March 2013

Source: Mathias Aboba

UNICEF supports newborn survival in upper east region

UNICEF has increased support from four to ten districts in the Upper East region to implement a 5 year child survival program known as the Essential Newborn Care (ENC).
The program which began in 2012 started with Bolgatanga, Bawku and Kassena-Nankana municipals and Bawku West district. The new districts brought on board are Talensi-Nabdam, Garu-Tempane and Kassena Nankana-West. All four newly created districts namely Pusiga, Binduri, Talensi and Nabdam districts have been billed to benefit from the initiative.
Addressing a stakeholders’ inception forum at Bolgatanga to usher in the new beneficiary districts, the Regional Director of Health Services Dr John Koku Awoonor-Williams said the program is a comprehensive strategy designed to improve the health and survival of newborns through interventions that focuses on preconception, conception, during birth, soon after birth and in the postnatal period. Dr Awoonor thanked UNICEF for the resources committed to the program and said the Upper East region considers it a privilege to benefit from such support in a strategy so crucial in the area of child and maternal health as the country tries hard to meet the MDG 4 & 5 by 2015.
He said current statistics from Ghana Demographic Health Survey (GDHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) suggest that child mortality is increasing with a shocking drop in performance by the Upper East region. This situation he said leaves health authorities in the region agitated and concerned about what to do to consolidate the positive gains made over the years and ways to improve on the situation. Dr. Awoonor said the region has been a star performer in the child health care delivery and it is completely unacceptable to suddenly see a decline in performance despite ongoing interventions targeted at improving child health and survival.
Dr Awoonor noted that in order that the region and for that matter Ghana achieves significant reduction in child mortality it is crucial to focus on essential and proven interventions aimed at reducing neonatal mortality, as evidence shows over 50% of infant deaths occur within the first month of birth. This he said should be tackled, if overall mortality is to be reduced.
The Regional Director observed that as far as newborn survival is concerned community based interventions supported by effective facility level strategies have proven to work best. He therefore appealed for effective integration and coordination of all interventions aimed at improving child health and child survival. He also called the attention of community leaders, state institutions and departments, private and non-governmental organizations to initiate and support innovations that improve child and maternal health.
The Regional Director indicated that the remaining three districts in the region are currently benefiting from similar newborn care interventions being implemented under the Ghana Essential Health Intervention Program (GEHIP) and expressed hope that come next year when the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey is conducted, the Upper East region will produce results which reflect the investments and efforts.
Mr. Emmanuel Ayire, the Coordinator for Essential Newborn Care program stated that the initiative targets improving access and quality of newborn health care at both health institutions and community levels through capacity building and refresher training for midwives and other frontline health staff. Community Based Agents (CBAs) and volunteers of the Ghana Red Cross Society are also being trained to offer home-based support and aid in data collection on newborn care.
He said in the first year of the project 104 health workers, 596 community-based agents, 96 hospital staff and 1, 200 Red Cross volunteers from the four pilot districts have received various trainings to upgrade their knowledge and skills to improve on their performance in the provision of health care services to newborns. Regional and district hospitals of the beneficiary districts have also benefited from logistics and essential equipment to enable them provide appropriate services for newborn. In line with this objective, a functional neonatal intensive care unit is being established at the Bolgatanga Regional hospital to serve as the referral hub for all newborns that require intensive care.
Speaking at the same forum the Deputy Director of Health Services in charge of Clinical Care Dr. Ernest Kujo Opoku observed that in some communities in the region, there still persist certain cultural practices that contribute to child morbidity and mortality. Some of such practices he said included the prohibition of a new mother and the baby from going anywhere beyond the house. Dr Opoku said this practice has made it difficult for all newborns to be vaccinated against the childhood diseases. He also mentioned some dangerous and outmoded practices that encourage use of local herbs and other methods in dressing cord of newborn babies. This he said also contributes to infections which sometimes lead to death of newborns. He therefore called for stronger collaboration and dialogue with communities to help weed out such inimical practices and save lives of babies.