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Connecting mothers-to-be with health services in humanitarian settings

15 November 2018
In a few hours, Ruth* is expecting the successful delivery of her newborn baby. She smiles as she receives a mama pack from UNFPA Zambia Representative, Ms. Gift Malunga. UNFPA in Zambia continues to support actions that ensure every childbirth is safe, including in humanitarian settings

Mantapala Refugee Settlement, Nchelenge District: – Ruth* recently settled into her new home located in Mantapala Refugee Settlement of Nchelenge District, after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. In a few hours, she is expecting the successful delivery of her newborn baby at the maternal and child health facility supported by UNFPA Zambia, with funding support from UN Central Emergency Response Fund.

Like many women within the settlement, Ruth lives many miles away from the health facility. The long distances, coupled with limited information about safe motherhood practices, often limit women’s access to skilled attendance at birth. This, in turn, increases the risk of maternal death associated with delayed response to complications.

Deploying Community-Based Volunteers

Informing women and mothers-to-be about the availability of maternal and newborn health services, including the benefits of delivering in a health facility, used to be one of the main challenges facing health workers serving the refugee population in Nchelenge District. This is no longer the case, as a group of community-based volunteers has taken on this critical role within the settlement.

“I was escorted to the health facility by one of the women volunteers who lives near us. She explained to me the importance of delivering my baby at a health facility, and because of that, I decided to come and deliver my baby here. I know that in case I have a complication during birth, the nurses will help to address it” says Ruth*

The Mantapala community-based volunteer group was formed in March 2018, following a training facilitated by UNFPA, with funding from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund. Serving a refugee population of 11,193[1] the group is comprised of 30 refugee members, male and female, who act as the primary link between families and the maternal and newborn health facility. They undertake community sensitization on the importance of family planning and the importance of antenatal care; support and escort pregnant women to the facility for skilled delivery; undertake home visits to monitor postnatal mothers and their newborns; and refer postnatal mothers with danger signs to the health facility.

 “Before our group was formed and trained, a lot of women used to deliver inside their make-shift homes within the settlement.  But now, we are proud to say we have more and more women delivering with the assistance of a skilled health worker” says Martha, the Chairperson of the group.

The group has also made a positive impact on general health practices of community members within the settlement.

"Since we started our group in March 2018, we have noticed that families have adopted more hygienic practices with their infants; more men are escorting their wives to antenatal check-ups; women are booking early for delivering at the facility; and more women are requesting family planning commodities” says John, another member of the group.

Community based volunteers in Mantapala refugee settlement pose for a photo with UNFPA Zambia Representative, Ms. Gift Malunga and UNFPA staff during a monitoring visit in September 2018.
Community based volunteers in Mantapala refugee settlement pose for
a photo with UNFPA Zambia Representative and
UNFPA staff during a monitoring visit.

Since February 2018, the community-based volunteers have supported the distribution of 1,977 dignity kits among women and girls of reproductive age; contributed to key actions that enabled 7,459 women and young people to access sexual and reproductive health information and services; and played a key role towards increased institutional deliveries totaling 356