Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) should be a national priority, and political parties should include it in their manifestoes said speakers at the second session of a series of seminars on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) and nutrition, organised by Aga Khan University’s Division of Women and Child Health, with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Dr Feroz Memon, DG Health, Sindh, appreciated the advocacy seminars and assured that Sindh Health Department would fully consider the recommendations in the policy-making process. “By establishing the Health Sector Reforms Unit, Sindh Health Department has shown that the department is sincere and committed in improving the health conditions in the province,” he said.
Addressing the session, Dr Sadiqua Jafarey, President, National Council of Maternal and Neonatal Health, highlighted the poor status of maternal health and skilled birth attendance in Pakistan. She also gave figures on how poverty and lack of education go hand in hand. “According to Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-2007, the poor and the rural population are the hardest hit. Majority of the mothers and newborns are dying during labour and within the first 24 hours of delivery,” she said.
Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, Chair, Division of Women and Child Health, AKU, outlined the challenges, determinants and current inequities based on poverty and residence. Focusing specifically on Sindh, he said the people in the province are very welcoming towards health improvements and the ground is fertile for implementation. He stressed that there are enormous opportunities for increasing the efficiency of programmes addressing MNCH and nutrition in Sindh.
Dr Bhutta recommended six packages of care covering pre-conceptual and post-abortion care, antenatal care, childbirth and immediate newborn care, postnatal care, expanded nutrition package, and expanded immunisation package. He said that the packages could save over 70 per cent of maternal, newborn and child deaths.
Speaking on reproductive health, Dr Farid Midhet of the College of Medicine, Qassim University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, expressed grave concerns over the stagnant indicators in Pakistan compared to its neighbouring countries. “Pakistan has a very large, young population with little schooling and few jobs, which is contributing to instability and a serious law and order situation in the country. While population and health departments have been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, the decentralisation seems to have had little or no positive impact on these two sectors. Instead, their performance appears to have deteriorated over the last two years,” he said.
Dr Nabeela Ali, Chief of Party, USAID Technical Assistance Unit for Health, highlighted the urgent need to address the governance and budgetary issues that hamper progress. She pointed out that private sector is neglected and largely unregulated, and that public private partnership was not optimally utilised.
The seminar was also addressed by Sindh Government officials, including Dr Sahib Jan Badar, Manager, MNCH Programme; Dr Suresh Kumar, Additional Secretary Health; and Kiran Nauman, Additional Secretary Development.
Representatives from political parties, civil society organisations and religious parties attended the workshop to ensure broad based discussions and consensus on RMNCH issues.
The seminars are intended to build consensus on innovative, cost-effective and sustainable interventions and implementation strategies that can improve maternal, newborn and child health conditions in Pakistan.
Similar seminar was held in Peshawar a day before and another one is to be held in Lahore, to share the national and relevant provincial analysis, and to develop awareness around desired outcomes to address population issues, family planning and nutrition in Pakistan in addition to longstanding governance issues.
A final dissemination meeting is to be held in Islamabad in December this year. The outcomes of the seminars are to be shared with the national level political leadership, members of Senate and outgoing parliament as well as relevant federal authorities for political commitment – and funding – is needed for any real improvements in maternal, newborn and child health, and nutrition.
Fabeha Pervez, Media Executive, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 2925 or firstname.lastname@example.org