Improving Maternal Health in South Africa

Improving Maternal Health in South Africa

Carmel Lawry started volunteering at Holy Family Care Centre in July 2011, sharing her skills in health care programs for a year. After returning to Australia for 18 months, Carmel returned to Holy Family Care Centre in 2014 to take on a new assignment. Carmel shares an update from a recent community health workshop she facilitated in Limpopo Province, South Africa, below.

Throughout my placement, I have found that opportunities for capacity building come from all directions. Never miss an opportunity to get involved, particularly if your knowledge and skills match the need. Recently, Holy Family Care Centre hosted a two day workshop for CATHCA (Catholic Health Care Association) South Africa.

CATHCA’s vision is to provide high-quality affordable health care services to the poorest and most marginalised people, and has an ever-growing number of diocesan, parish and community-based health organisations. Many of these organisations have arisen as part of the Church’s active response to the AIDS pandemic.

Carmel and participants at the CATHCA workshop
Carmel and participants at the CATHCA workshop

The World Health Organisation promotes that communities should take an active part in improving their own health outcomes and Community Health Workers can play a vital role. Community-based care is an important component of providing a continuum of care for low-resource communities.

The health and well-being of women, newborns, and children are inherently linked, and when mothers are malnourished, ill, or receive insufficient care, their newborns are at increased risk of disease and premature death.

Better health demands that women and children have the ability to access quality services from conception and pregnancy to delivery, the postnatal period, and throughout childhood. Issues such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, malaria, malnutrition, complications during pregnancy and delivery, and inadequate newborn and child care can be addressed with interventions that target maternal, newborn, and child health care as a whole by the Community Health Workers.

The full program consisted of two weeks of theory and two days of practical, followed by community placements. The two day practicals, which I facilitated at Holy Family, consisted of topics in line with the South African Government’s “Maternal Health Guidelines” and “Road to Health Program”, including:

  • Antenatal and postnatal care
  • Breastfeeding
  • Nutrition, recognising malnourishment and stunting
  • Childhood developmental milestones – physical, growth monitoring, social and emotional, intellectual and language.
  • Childhood illness and immunisation programs.
  • Infection control in the home

There were 19 participants and 18 children aged five and under, which gave the participants the opportunity to weigh and measure the children and ascertain their growth status. Divided into groups, the participants tested the babies and children’s developmental milestones using a variety of tools, toys and observational skills. Each group then reported back to the whole class.

We also arranged for six young mothers and their babies to come for a morning session from the local village. Getting to engage with young mothers, gain their trust and assess their health and social situations was an invaluable experience.

Holy Family Care Centre is a home for vulnerable babies and young children, who have been orphaned, abandoned and/or abused. Many children are HIV positive and are in urgent need of care. Working together with local social workers, we aim to reunite children with their extended family when their health and social circumstances have improved and is considered safe. In the meantime, we provide a home, loving care and support.

The chance to facilitate learning with the Community Health Workers not only empowers the local people with skills, but also provides direct contact and support in the village to pregnant women, mothers and young children, which may mean one less child being admitted to Holy Family Care Centre.

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