Improved health services for mothers and newborns in Pakistan
A. Sami Malik, UNICEF
HAJI GHAZI, Pakistan (July 29, 2011) – In Haji Ghazi, a small town and Union Council in southern Punjab Province, dozens of women – some pregnant, others holding their newborn children – fill a room in the town's Basic Health Unit, or BHU. A doctor carefully examines and provides medical advice to each of them.
Rabiya Bibi, 20, patiently waits for her turn, holding Mariyam, her 13-day old daughter, in her arms. This is her first child. She was delivered in this BHU and has been brought back for a routine check-up. Ms. Bibi is conscientious about all medical check-ups, for herself as well as the baby.
"I got pregnant soon after the floods, when we returned to our village from a camp," she explains, referring to the monsoon floods that inundated Haji Ghazi a year ago. "I knew that delivering in a private clinic is expensive, and we didn't have enough money," she adds.
The local Health Supervisor advised Ms. Bibi that the BHU in town had expanded its services and become a hospital. Soon thereafter, she began antenatal visits there with her obstetrician, eventually giving birth at the facility. "Now I bring Mariyam here for her check-ups and vaccinations," she says.
Obstetric and neonatal care
During the last seven months, more than 460 successful deliveries have taken place at the Haji Ghazi BHU. By contrast, for 14 years before the floods, not a single child had been delivered in the unit. In fact, the BHU previously didn't offer obstetric and neonatal health services.
As a result, pregnancy and childbirth used to be immensely difficult for the women of Haji Ghazi. Transportation to the nearest health facility, the high cost of delivery in a private clinic and the risk of not reaching a clinic in time – all these were major concerns not only for pregnant women but for the community as a whole.
The lack of obstetric and neonatal care in the BHU meant that a number of women lost their lives, while others lost their unborn or newborn children.
After the floods, UNICEF teamed up with the Punjab Health Department to initiate 24-hour emergency obstetric and neonatal services for flood-affected women and children in Dera Ghazi Khan District, where Haji Ghazi is located.
'A true blessing'
"No one in this town, especially a pregnant woman, could have imagined receiving medical attention in the middle of the night," explains Health Supervisor Baji Kulsoom. "Round-the-clock medical care every day of the week, and so close to their houses, is a true blessing for the people of this town. It has made my job easy."
One of the medical officers at the BHU, Dr. Nazia Shahid, is equally enthusiastic, pointing out that the clinic serves the Union Council's entire population of 38,000 and treats between 100 and 150 patients every day.
"This BHU also serves as the central registration point," says Dr. Shahid. "All patients and newborns are issued registration cards. Each visit is noted on the card. This helps maintain a record of their treatment and vaccinations."
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