Innovative efforts needed for safe births among disadvantaged communities

November 18, 2022 - 14:43
A survey was conducted in six poor ethnic minority provinces across Việt Nam for safe pregnancy.
A village-based birth attendant (left) performs antenatal care for a local woman (centre) in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai. — VNA/VNS Photo Dương Ngọc 

HÀ NỘI — In the most disadvantaged communes in the northern mountainous region and Central Highlands, only 11 per cent of ethnic minority mothers receive four antenatal check-ups - the minimum requirement.

More than 70 per cent of pregnant women in these regions only had one check-up during their entire pregnancy, while only 34.7 per cent of childbirths are assisted by a trained birth attendant. 

These figures are included in the results of the study “Leave no one behind: Innovative interventions to reduce maternal mortality in ethnic minority regions of Việt Nam,” which was realised by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and MSD for Mothers, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH).

As part of the project, researchers from Hà Nội University of Public Health conducted a survey in 60 of the most disadvantaged communes of six poor ethnic minority provinces, which are Lai Châu, Sơn La, Bắc Kạn, Kon Tum, Gia Lai and Đắk Nông.

The study also revealed that around 70 per cent of women have home births, which can pose risks of complications during the delivery, or in the postpartum period. 

In terms of family planning, only 53 per cent of mothers in these locations use contraceptives, which is 19 percentage points lower than the national average (72 per cent). 

Meanwhile, local women’s unmet needs in family planning are over 17 per cent, almost double the national average of 10 per cent.

In particular, for Thái ethnic women, the unmet needs for family planning are significantly high, at 49 per cent. 

At the dissemination workshop on the project, UNFPA representative to Việt Nam Naomi Kitahara talked about her observations during the field trip to Lai Châu Province.

She said: “Ethnic minorities often reside in such remote and mountainous locations far away from any health facilities. 

“And even in those locations, skilled medical personnel and necessary medical equipment supplies are very limited.”

UNFPA representative Naomi Kitahara, maternal and health care director Tuấn and MSD Việt Nam general director Cox (left to right) during the panel discussion. — VNS Photo Nhật Hồng

The report also pointed out that there’s room for improvement in training for staff at commune- and district-level medical facilities, both public and private, in assessment, risk detection, and response to emergency cases during pregnancy. 

This knowledge is also crucial to ethnic mothers and their family members, which is why the study recommends educational programmes for safe pregnancy and childbirth, taking into account local culture and traditions.

MSD Việt Nam general director Jennifer Cox said: “When a woman can have proper maternal care, she and her family, community and nation thrive.” 

Noting that Việt Nam was one of the only six countries that achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of improving maternal health in 2015, Kitahara added: “The findings of the survey constitute good evidence for the development of innovative interventions in order to ensure the provision of quality sexual and reproductive health services to prevent maternal deaths, thus contributing to Việt Nam's efforts to achieve the SDG target on maternal mortality by 2030.”

Addressing the event, director of the MoH’s Department of Maternal and Child Health Đinh Anh Tuấn said: “Reducing maternal mortality among ethnic minorities is a priority in the Government’s development agenda. 

“The project is an important contribution to innovative interventions, which are based on effective measures proven in the past and modern applications, such as technology in management and access to services, information, consultancy and even remote medical examination.”

The project is funded by MSD for Mothers and MSD Việt Nam (US$1.2 million) and UNFPA ($810,000).

It aims at increasing access to and utilisation of integrated, quality and voluntary sexual and reproductive health services amongst ethnic minorities; improving the capacity on emergency obstetric care management in remote mountainous localities; and building a village-based birth attendant network in remote ethnic minority localities. — VNS