Postnatal care critical to reducing maternal and infant mortality

Many women in low- and middle-income countries do not use postnatal care, says study

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

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Keeping mothers and babies under institutional postnatal care for 24 hours before discharge or visiting them immediately after a home delivery are some of the measures governments must follow to substantially reduce maternal and infant mortality, says a study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday.

The study prioritises making postnatal care services more accessible, especially to women from economically weaker sections in rural areas. It also asks governments to perform repeated assessments of newborn babies and their mothers so that problems may be indentified and treated early.

“A large burden of maternal and infant deaths take place during the 42 days following delivery, yet access to postnatal care services is unacceptably low,” said lead author Etienne V Langlois from the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research.

Less than 20 per cent of women receive postnatal care in Kenya. Many women in 15 such low- and middle-income countries and territories don’t use postnatal care because it is either not accessible or is too expensive.

“Another problem, our study identified, is that postnatal care services are not equitably distributed in low- and middle-income countries where the vast majority (99 per cent) of maternal and neonatal deaths occur,” Langlois said. “So women of low socio-economic status with little education living in rural or remote areas have little or no access to these life-saving services.”

The study recommends that governments and policy makers must invest in and increase access to postnatal care, reduce fees at point of care, devise community-based programmes to make women aware about reproductive health and maternity, among other measures.

“Decision-makers should develop health promotion programmes to educate families and communities about the importance of using postnatal care services, for instance upon noticing dangers signs in newborns, such as convulsions or problems with feeding,” said Severin von Xylander, member of the WHO team that set postnatal care guidelines.

Reducing maternal and infant mortality is among the eight UN Millennium Development Goals. Many countries will not be able to achieve this goal by the time progress is assessed this year. Last year, 194 member states of WHO had endorsed the “Every Newborn Action Plan” which calls for special attention to mothers and infants in the first week of birth.

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