Two sign agreement to improve maternal and neonatal health in four at-risk provinces.
The multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson and UNICEF signed a partnership agreement on December 9 to improve maternal and neonatal health, in particular focusing on the most vulnerable women and children in ethnic minority communities.
The partnership will support the Ministry of Health’s efforts in saving the lives of mothers and infants by improving access to quality healthcare services, improving the capacity of heath staff in the four disadvantaged provinces of Dien Bien, Lao Cai, Kon Tum, and Gia Lai, which have a total population of over 3 million people, the majority of which are ethnic minorities.
Vietnam has made remarkable progress in saving the lives of mothers and children in recent decades. Maternal and child deaths were reduced significantly between 1990 and 2014. However, an estimated 18,000 newborns die every year in the country. The main causes of neonatal mortality are asphyxia, infection, and premature delivery. Large disparities exist between regions and ethnic groups. For example, the infant mortality rate in Kom Tum is 2.6 times higher than the national average. The child mortality rate among ethnic minorities remains three times higher than that of the Kinh majority.
Most of these deaths are preventable with simple interventions, which include skilled birth attendance, early essential newborn care, early initiation of breastfeeding, and Kangaroo-mother care (KMC) for premature and low weight babies.
“We cannot let these preventable and treatable causes continue to claim the lives of mothers and newborns,” said Mr. Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Vietnam.
“We must act to ensure that all children are born into a safe and healthy world. The partnership with Johnson & Johnson will lead to great improvements in the health and well-being of Vietnamese women and children, especially for the most disadvantaged ones,” he said.
According to Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Nguyen Viet Tien, in recent decades Vietnam has achieved many accomplishments and earned the appreciation of the international community in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on maternal and child health (MCH). The maternal mortality rate decreased from 233/100,000 live births in 1990 to 69 in 2010 and continued to decline to 56/100,000 live births in 2014. The mortality rate of children under five years decreased from 58/1,000 to 23/1,000 in 2014. Malnutrition among children under five has decreased rapidly and sustainably.
However, Dr. Tien also pointed out there are still problems to overcome. “The first is the large disparity in health status and maternal and child nutrition among regions,” he said. “And the second is that the pace of reducing infant mortality is much slower than the rate of mortality in children under 12 months and the mortality rate in children under five years old.”
During the five years of the partnership, Johnson & Johnson, UNICEF, and the Ministry of Health are expected to improve the capacity for more than 3,000 health workers and ethnic minority midwives in skilled birth assistance, early essential newborn care, and Kangaroo-mother care. Coaching and supportive supervision will also be provided to health workers and midwives in the four project provinces to ensure quality performance in maternal and child healthcare.
Communication activities will be conducted to create demand for using quality health services among pregnant women, those of child bearing age, and those with small children. The aim is also to provide at least three antenatal care check-ups for 80 per cent of pregnant women and contribute to reducing the rates of mortality among mothers, newborns, and infants in the four provinces.