News: MDG 4: Reduce Child Mortality; MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health

In the last issue of Palms Post (October 2009) we featured Carlita’s story, in which Carlita Da Cruz Martins explained her work as a health worker at Atabae.

Included in the article was a picture captioned: “Francelina receives formula milk from Carlita.” This was not the focus of the article, but some observant members raised their concerns in letters to Palms.

Agusto, one of the chidren benefitting from Atabae's program

“Obviously I do not know the circumstances that have led to this formula being given, but I do not think that it is very appropriate that this is shown in your beautiful magazine, since on page 23 you outline that the Palm’s Call to Action includes ‘Reducing Child Mortality.’”

We were then directed to online videos from a UNICEF documentary (Formula for Disaster, available at youtube.com) and the World Health Organisation’s efforts to promote breastfeeding.

In light of this feedback, we thought this was a perfect opportunity to provide some more information about the photo and the context. To this end we contacted Margaret Hall, Palms’ volunteer in Atabae, for some background to the story.

“Our program is for special needs mothers and babies. These are mothers and babies who need emergency help now.

“Francelina is a widow. Six days after delivering twin boys, she was brought to the Centre in a very poor state of nutrition and health. She had lost a lot of blood during delivery. One twin was in poor but fair health and the other was a very low birth weight and in an extremely poor state of health. We did not think he would survive the night. In fact, we also worried about Mother.

Novelito weighs himself under his father's watchful eye
“With the advice of Dr Dan at Bairo Pite Clinic, they were immediately evacuated to Dili. This was a life saving situation.”

“Last month we sent photos of Francelina and boys showing a happy, healthy family. The boys are now running around and talking. They are hard to tell apart as the little one caught up wonderfully.”

“We all know ‘Breast is Best’. But each case is individual and should be treated as needs require at the time. I believe, the photo shows the reality of our undernourished mothers and the environment they have to survive in.”

It is sometimes said that for every person who raises their concerns, there are ten who remain quiet. We would like to reassure our readers who were concerned by the photo that Palms Australia does not support programs that promote formula use over breastfeeding. We would also like to acknowledge the great work Atabae health centre does to serve the needs of mothers and babies and educate about these issues.

We are heartened that Palms’ members and returnees show such concern that development work is done sustainably and appropriately. Thank you for your interest. The ongoing engagement of our members and returnees in many ways is what makes Palms unique.

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The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. - Rumi