Maternal and Neonatal Health in ZimbabweProject HOPE stands for Health Opportunities for People Everywhere. It is an international health and humanitarian relief organization. The organization works to strengthen and improve health systems around the globe. Founded in 1958, Project HOPE responds to health crises and disasters but often stays in areas long after a disaster has hit to address other neglected health issues. Project HOPE entered Sierra Leone in 2014 in response to the Ebola outbreak. After sending an emergency response team and shipments of medical supplies to help contain the outbreak, permanent Project HOPE health workers remained in Sierra Leone. Now, their biggest health concern is to improve maternal and neonatal health in Sierra Leone.

Maternal and Neonatal Mortality Rates in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world with 1,360 mothers dying per every 100,000 live births. The main causes of maternal death include bleeding, pregnancy-induced hypertension, infection, unsafe abortions and anemia. An alarming 40 percent of Sierra Leone’s maternal deaths in 2016 were teenagers aged 15-19.

Sierra Leone also has one of the highest neonatal mortality rates with 33 deaths per 1,000 live births. Only 36 percent of newborns in rural areas and 47 percent of newborns in urban areas receive postnatal care within two days.

Sierra Leone’s lack of trained professionals and medical equipment are perpetuating high maternal and neonatal mortality rates. The country of 7 million only has around 165 doctors and very few neonatal specialists. Organizations like Project HOPE are working to improve maternal and neonatal health outcomes by providing renovation support for neonatal centers. Additionally, they are strengthening the skills and training of health care professionals and establishing neonatal programs. For example, programs such as Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), which is for premature and low birth-weight newborns.

The Impact of Project HOPE on Maternal and Neonatal Health

Training local health workers is an integral part of Project HOPE’s efforts to improve maternal and neonatal health in Sierra Leone. Their programs include evidence-based training on maternal and neonatal intervention. For instance, training on emergency obstetric and neonatal care, resuscitation with a bag and mask and hygienic cord care.

Project HOPE collaborates with training institutions to provide neonatal nursing program development. They collaborate to teach advanced skills and provide training towards certificates, bachelor’s degrees and specialty nursing degrees. Overall, with more skilled health care professionals come improved healthcare for mothers and newborns in Sierra Leone.

Advanced Neonatal Care

Furthermore, to improve the care of preterm and underweight babies, Project HOPE has provided national and district training programs. These programs include universal modules such as Essential Care of Every Newborn, Essential Care of Small Babies and Helping Babies to Breathe.

Moreover, Project HOPE has established the first two Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) units for premature and low birth weight newborns. The KMC approach is to securely wrap the fragile, underweight newborns skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest. This provides warmth and promotes regular breathing and breastfeeding for babies who are struggling with both actions. These community-based units are very effective in areas with low resources. In regions without incubators, this method is life-saving for vulnerable children who are unable to keep in their body heat. Certainly, Project HOPE continues to promote the creation of more KMC units in Sierra Leone.

Life-Saving Progress

International support from organizations such as Project HOPE is helping provide life-saving training, services and equipment for mothers and children in Sierra Leone. Though much remains to be accomplished, progress is certainly being made on maternal and neonatal health in Sierra Leone.

– Camryn Lemke
Photo: Flickr