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This post was co-written by our fabulous intern Sara Chatterjee - catch her on Twitter @sarachatterjee
As was widely reported over the summer, Bangladesh is on the right track to achieve its millennium development goals, especially those relating to maternal and child mortality. In 9 years, Bangladesh managed to reduce maternal mortality by 40%, and reduce the mortality of children under 5 by 60%.
So, what did Bangladesh do to get where it is now, and can its South Asian neighbors learn anything from its journey?
In this post, I thought we’d take a closer look at what Bangladesh is doing right.
Post-Natal Care in Bangladesh
1. Empowering women through education
According to the Maternal Health Care survey, there is a link between improving girls’ access to education and reducing maternal mortality rates. In Bangladesh, women with 8 years or more of education are 3 times less likely to die in childbirth. Is this surprising? Actually, not really, because it’s been proven that women who are educated are 13 times more likely to use trained medical personnel for their delivery than women with no formal education. Bangladesh started offering free primary and secondary education for girls up to the 12th grade in 2001, and since then, girls’ enrollment in schools has increased more than threefold. Indirectly, this bodes very well for efforts to decrease maternal mortality rates.
2. Offering family planning options
Unlike its neighbors China and India, Bangladesh did not implement a coercive policy against population growth. Rather, government workers travelled to the remotest parts of the country giving free pills and free advice. According to The Economist, only 8% of women were using birth control in 1975, and by 2010, the figure had risen to over 60%! To empower women with birth control ensures that their children are better spaced, improving birth outcomes for themselves and their babies.
3. Training healthcare workers at the community level
According to the WHO, most nurses and healthcare personnel are concentrated in urban areas while 70% of the population lives in rural areas. 12 years ago, Bangladesh embarked on a mission to train 17,000 skilled birth attendants to work at the community level. Unfortunately, half of this target remains to be met (and the 2015 deadline looms ahead!) but there are certainly more competent rural medical professionals in rural Bangladesh than ever before.
4. Maternal health care information right on your….cellphone!
Aponjon is a nationwide maternal and childcare messaging service that recently reached 100,000 subscribers in Bangladesh. It sends messages to users to dispel common misconceptions about maternal and child care. It is also designed to inform expecting mothers of potential healthcare hazards and to help them find local health services.
5. Implementing health care measures that are relevant to prevailing customs
Like in Pakistan, many Bangladeshi mothers give birth at home and development organizations like BRAC (which is considered the largest NGO in the world) are providing them with tools that take this practice into account. Like us, they believe the key is to respect existing customs, while creating a safe environment for both mother and baby. In this view, BRAC has implemented a clean delivery kit, similar to the one we fund and include in our Maternal and Neonatal Kit, which contains only the bare necessities to make the birth environment clean and sterile: gauze, carbolic soap, a sterile plastic sheet, a blade and a thread for the umbilical cord. They have manufactured more than 2.6 million of these kits in the past 15 years contributing positively to the reduction of maternal and infant mortality in the country. You can read more about their delivery kit here.
Improving maternal and infant health is a difficult proposition, requiring a comprehensive approach. Bangladesh has implemented multiple, efficient solutions, which, when used together have markedly improved the lives of women and babies, making it a model for other nations. We hope they are paying attention, because this is how it is done.