The Healthy Babies program, now in Phase II of implementation, is working to improve maternal and neonatal health in three remote Amazon jungle communities in the Ucayali region of Peru—Monte de los Olivos, Atalaya and San Jose de Yarinacocha—with a special focus on indigenous populations whose social exclusion and physical isolation from health care facilities put them at high risk for maternal and infant mortality.
Although steady and significant improvements have been achieved over the past decade, Peru still has among the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the western hemisphere as a result of critical gaps in access, communication and knowledge, as well as the lack of adequately trained health personnel and adequately equipped health facilities. Among the mostly indigenous populations living in the Amazon jungle region of Ucayali, maternal and infant mortality rates are 106/100,000 and 24/1,000, respectively. Yet the Pan American Health Organization has estimated that mortality is underreported by as much as 50% in poor regions of Peru—a rate that may be even higher in the remote jungle areas home to indigenous groups living in extreme poverty.
Phase II of the Healthy Babies program addresses the four major ongoing priorities identified in Phase I, which was carried out from 2006-2010:
- Specialized training and capacity building for community health workers. INMED has already trained more than 600 community health workers through the first phase of the Healthy Babies program. Yet continuing education and specialized training are essential to further enhancing their effectiveness and bridging identified gaps in knowledge, particularly on maternal and neonatal health and danger signs in pregnancy and childbirth, postpartum, and in newborns and young children. New topics to be introduced are healthy lifestyles, reproductive health, promoting responsible sexual practices among adolescents, community-based health monitoring, and working with indigenous populations.
- Education on reproductive and maternal/child health for women and adolescents. Putting their training into action, community health workers will reach women and adolescents of childbearing age, pregnant women and mothers through home visits and educational workshops in central community locations.
- Translation and dissemination of health education materials into indigenous languages. INMED has already developed a suite of culturally and linguistically relevant educational materials in formats appropriate for Ucayali’s low-literate Spanish-speaking population, such as posters, calendars, picture cards, coloring books for children and radio messages. In Phase II, we will adapt and translate these materials into three of the major indigenous languages spoken in Ucayali: Shipibo-Conibo, Ashaninka and Cashibo, and distribute them among the health posts and community health workers in the relevant areas.
- Development and implementation of maternity waiting homes. For late-stage pregnant women who live far from health facilities, maternity waiting homes (casas de espera)—small guest houses located next to appropriately equipped and staffed birthing facilities—provide a place where women from remote areas can stay for the few weeks or days leading up to delivery, ensuring that they are close to the care they need when labor begins, and for the immediate postpartum period, when the majority of neonatal deaths occur. In Phase II, we will open INMED’s third casa in the town of San Jose de Yarinacocha.