Gauteng improves maternal health

10 February 2014

The introduction of Kangaroo mother care – continued skin to skin contact between the mother and her newborn – to all hospitals in Gauteng that offer maternity services is one of the measures credited for the improvement of the child mortality rate, according to Hope Papo, Gauteng’s MEC for Health.

Improved services for mothers and children has seen the mortality rate for children under the age of five drop 7.3 percentage points from 10.7% in 2006 to 3.4% in mid- 2013, Papo said in a statement issued to mark the start of Reproductive Health Month.

Kangaroo mother care has been shown to prevent infections, promote breastfeeding, regulate the baby’s temperature, breathing, and brain activity, and encourages mother and baby bonding.

Other measures to improve maternal and child care highlighted by Papo include the stepping up of school health services, training of health workers on integrated management of childhood illnesses, and a successful immunisation programme.

Immunisation services are provided daily by all clinics and some hospitals in Gauteng, which is South Africa’s wealthiest province. The coverage of children under the age of five has “consistently been above the national target of 90% of all children in the age group”, Papo said.

Maternal deaths

The rate of maternal deaths in Gauteng hospitals had also dropped, Papo said, attributing this to strategies implemented by the department to combat the HIV epidemic. The ratio of maternal deaths has decreased from 167.7 per 100 000 live births in between 2005 and 2007 to 145 per 100 000 live births for 2008 to 2010.

Other contributing factors included the purchasing of 20 new dedicated obstetric ambulances, ongoing service training for doctors and midwives on essential steps in the management of obstetric emergency (ESMOE), and responding to recommendations of the “Saving Mothers” report.

Improved services for mothers and children had also improved in the past two years, Papo said. Three out of every four new mothers are now visited at home within six days of delivery and approximately eight out of 10 pregnant women (80.5%) who are HIV-positive have been placed on long-term antiretroviral therapy.

HIV-positive mothers

Papo noted that although this is primarily intended to treat the mother, ARV therapy also prevents transmission of HIV to the baby.

“In Gauteng, we have achieved 99% coverage of babies who are born of HIV positive mothers. In the year 2012/13, only 2.4% of babies born to HIV-positive mothers proved to be HIV infected when tested at the age of six weeks, a rate which is below the national target of 5%,” Papo said.

He added that the department’s exclusive breastfeeding campaign was also assisting in increasing the number of healthy babies.

Papo encouraged pregnant women to know their health status and that of their children: “The drive to encourage our people to know their health status will not only assist the department in its goal to reduce infant, child and maternal deaths but will also ensure that the mothers and their babies live a long and healthy life.”

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