Maternal health handbook saves lives in Vietnam

Maternal health handbook saves lives in Vietnam
Commune health workers participate in a training course on how to use the Handbook for Maternal and Child Health in the northern province of Hoa Binh.

A part of a pilot project between Vietnamese health ministry and a Japanese organisation, the handbook populates delivery and child raising knowledge.

Nguyen Thi Minh will be always grateful for a little pink handbook she was given by her commune health station when she became pregnant again.

The half-inch thick publication, simply titled Handbook for Maternal and Child Health, turned out to be a life-saver for both Minh and her four-month-old unborn baby.

"One day, I noticed some mucus appearing and read the handbook to see if there was anything wrong." Minh said in a hospital bed in Thanh Hoa Maternity Hospital.

After realising it was a sign of miscarriage, Minh, who is in her mid twenties, did not have time to seek further advice, but rushed to hospital - as the handbook told her to do. The frantic young woman made it in time to save her third child.

Minh's story is one of many positive events that can be credited to the handbook in her hometown in the central province of Thanh Hoa.

When another mother from the same province, 28-year-old Hoang Thu Hang, learned that she was pregnant two years ago, she was overjoyed, but deep down she was in turmoil.

Hang's first daughter grew up stunted and she wondered if history was going to repeat itself. She blamed herself for not having enough knowledge to raise her daughter properly.

Then she found the handbook and devoured its contents.

"When I saw the first line of the book saying 'To help monitor the health of mother and child', I felt I had found something worthwhile," Hang said.

"I did not wander around asking for tips on nurturing anymore. I just followed the book and it was enough."

And she was not wrong. Her 14-month-old second girl is now a big happy child weighing 13 kilogrammes whereas her sister weighed only 9.5 kilogrammes at the same age six years ago.

In Hang's commune, the handbook became the talk of the town among mothers endlessly worrying about the 21 per cent malnutrition rate among local children.

It challenged many old practices, like letting children eat rice when they were less than a year old or treating diarrhoea by eating guava leaves.

For the first time, mothers were able to read in straightforward terms professional information about raising children.

The handbook was a part of a pilot project conducted in Thanh Hoa, Dien Bien and Hoa Binh provinces and the southern province of An Giang. It was produced by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) in co-operation with the ministry of health.

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