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Saving the lives of mothers and newborns, one household visit at a time

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"I was so scared and nervous the moments I started to be a village midwife but when I heard the baby crying into the new world I knew everything is ok and all of my worries were gone. I feel so happy and proud of the work I do," said Thao Thi Su, 27 years, Mong ethnic minority, working as a village midwife since 2010 in Ha La Chu A village in remote community in the very mountainous Dien Bien province. Su has successfully delivered more than 70 healthy babies and mothers in her village. When a young mother knows that she is pregnant in the village, Su is usually the first person they consult with.

 

Despite the fact that Su faces many challenges in her job, nothing stops her from saving lives of young mothers and newborns in her village. Households in her village are located far from each other and sometimes she has to walk uphill in very difficult terrain to reach the pregnant women she is following, and the walk is even more complicated when it rains. Su remembers a case when she was called to a home by a pregnant woman in labor who wanted to deliver her baby at home. As soon as she arrived she quickly noticed that the mother might be having complications with symptoms of hemorrhage. She managed to convince the family to send the mother immediately to the district hospital which they agreed to do and in the end it was the right decision that saved the lives of both the mother and the child. Su said, "If I hadn't been firm enough in my recommendation to the family, the mother or the child might not have survived. It wasn't easy to convince the family as several mothers deliver at home in this region. When deliveries with complications happen in middle of the night, it can be fatal if we do not send the pregnant women to the district hospital early on". One of the challenges Su has to face is a long-lasting cultural belief that women should not be allowed to deliver in a health centre with the presence of male doctors and nurses around.

Today, Su is visiting a young mother named Dung who is from the Mong ethnic minority. Dung just recently gave birth three weeks ago to her second child, a healthy baby boy. The 20 year-old mother lives in a very remote area in her village with her two children. Dung has to stay inside the house for at least a month to recover from her last delivery while also taking care of her older son who is 2 years old and bursting with energy. Dung's mom and her brother help her during that rest period. In local culture, the mother and her newborn should not go out of their house at all for the first few months, therefore a house visit from the midwife is her only chance to get a health check for her baby and to ensure that she's recovering well from the delivery. Su pays regular visits to young mothers with newborns like Dung around the village. She tries to visit every mother at least once every two weeks, or anytime that they need help. During each house visit, Su conducts a health checkup on the mother and she measures and weighs the baby to ensure that he or she is growing normally.

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It's important for Su to win the hearts and trust of women in the community because so many traditional beliefs make the population reticent to consult public health workers. She believes that all children in her village can grow up healthy and reach their full potentials when mothers and babies are being cared for by professionally trained midwives from very early on and she calls it "the moments of life".

UNICEF and Johnson & Johnson are working together in Viet Nam to ensure community health workers and midwives like Su receive quality training to better serve new mothers and their newborns in some of the most remote and underserved provinces. During her training, Su and 500 other village midwives in three provinces learned about early essential newborn care interventions, skilled birth assistance and kangaroo mother care technique, all key skills that needs to be mastered in her work. Through support from partners to train frontline health workers and investments in maternal and newborn health at community level, Su has observed a reduction of deaths of newborn babies by half in just one year in her village. This is a significant improvement in a region that remains plagued by poverty.

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