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Assessing and improving the quality of maternal health care in LAC

2013 January 22
by Martha Murdock

Martha Murdock is FCI’s Vice President of Regional Programs.

Last week in Arusha, Tanzania, scientists, researchers, advocates, and policy-makers came together to share knowledge and experiences at the Global Maternal Health Conference 2013.  The conference was co-sponsored by the Maternal Health Task Force (based at the Harvard School of Public Health) and Management and Development for Health (in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania).

Each day of this 4-day conference started with a plenary session; there were then  3 sets of parallel session, during which there were a daily total of 13 concurrent sessions — a wealth of fascinating content and information about technologies and strategies for eradicating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and improving quality of care.

At the conference, I presented a Rapid Assessment of Skilled Birth Attendants in Eight Latin American & Caribbean Countries, a study examining the role of skilled birth attendants in reducing maternal mortality. The rapid assessment gathered information on who is providing maternal and newborn care in selected health care facilities in Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, Panama, Peru, Colombia, Chile, and Guyana, and assesses the quality of that care. The study was conducted in 2011 with funding from UNFPA and UNICEF.

The assessment found that midwife performance rated highest overall in quality and competency, a finding that is consistent with the outcomes of prior studies of midwives and others with midwifery skills. However, study results indicate a need to increase quality of care across all maternal and newborn health care providers. Recommendations for improving quality of care included the following:

  • developing and using a uniform definition of skilled birth attendant
  • promoting maternal-infant bonding and immediate and exclusive breastfeeding
  • reviewing and promoting hand washing
  • promoting the increased availability and use of clean equipment, especially in the absence of potable water
  • establishing mechanisms to systematically monitor and improve the quality of care in the LAC region
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