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Providing health services for mums and tots is only part of the solution

When in South Wollo, Amhara region, recently, I met Dr Juliet Bedford (Director of Anthrologica) and her research team. They’ve been commissioned by Save the Children to better understand the health habits of local mothers and to try to understand why more women aren’t choosing to give birth in health centres.

The research clearly shows  that women in South Wollo are aware that they should attend health centres to have their babies, but are choosing not to for a variety reasons, including the poor conditions in health centres.

Women seem to prefer to stay at home to give birth unless they’re having a long or complicated labour — many like to have their family helping them and to give birth kneeling rather than lying down as they would in health centres.

One of the most crucial findings from this research was that, if women were educated at all about exclusive breastfeeding, this information was only being given during labour (and it needs to be done much sooner). Plus, it wasn’t being specified that this included the colostrum (the very first, nutrient-rich breastmilk), so many women were discarding this before starting to breastfeed. There was also a common misconception that health services, including delivery, weren’t free at health centres.

Areas for improvement

This research highlights areas for improvement. For example, we have to make sure it’s widely publicised that antenatal care, delivery and postnatal care are free at health centres. Providing the services for mothers and babies is only part of the solution.

We need to expand that provision and the quality of these services, but we must also focus on how to engage and ensure that people in the community actually use these services (by addressing the factors that may prevent or discourage them from doing so). The final report will be available soon.

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