The details of my first field visit last week intrigued me a little. I would be visiting Save’s partners at the Caloocan Health Department in Caloocan City with Kit, Project Coordinator based at the Quezon City office and attending a milk letting activity. Milk letting, I discovered, is the amazing process of how milk flows from mother to baby during breast feeding and I wondered how this would become an ‘activity’.
Like blood donors, lactating mothers gather to donate their breast milk for hospitals that are desperately short on supply – a partnership between the City Health Office and DOH in support of the city government’s milk letting program .
I arrived to the sound of 80’s music and an abundance of welcoming smiles and warm greetings from the partners running the event. Around 200 lactating mothers were in attendance ready and willing to donate their milk. I learnt this was the 3rd year this event has been held and as well as providing milk for abandoned and sick babies, it promotes breast feeding, nutrition advice and HIV screening.
It was a great opportunity to connect with our partners and I was able to discuss the birth plan project in more depth with Dr Marissa Isabedra who provided me with valuable information and resources.
Afterwards we visited Barangay 176 health center for the field visit – a district north of the city, to meet the midwife and community health volunteers and gain a deeper understanding how it works on the ground.
Caloocan is the third most populous city in the Philippines with only 44 health centres for a population of 1.6 million. Barangay 176 health center caters for the needs of around 39,000 people, with 1 nurse, 1 doctor, 1 midwife.
They are supported by wonderful members of the community who volunteer their time to do crucial work that the health care professionals cannot do. For example, they will visit families in the community to follow up on immunisations due for babies and infants, so they don’t miss these vital injections, check they are going to school and achieving important milestones, support adolescents and teenage mothers…these are just a few of the roles they perform. Unless there are specific budgets or programmes Community Health Workers (CHW) don’t get paid. In some cases, CHW’s can receive only 250 pesos a month. That’s £3.50. It’s a labour of love for these amazing people.
I was fortunate to observe Sophie Angeles, the midwife who was running the first clinic visit for women who are pregnant, and where the birth plan is first explained. Good communication and engagement with mothers is key to ensure they are motivated and prepared throughout their pregnancy up to and beyond delivery and are able to be tracked.
Family planning and counselling is given at every opportunity. There are high rates of teenage pregnancies – one girl at the clinic was just 15, so support provided here is essential to avoid these young mothers-to-be disappearing off the radar.
I am now seeing a fuller picture of the challenges in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Nutrition – and the successes. The drive, passion and determination to improve lives behind the scenes and on the ground is totally inspiring!
Speak soon! Alli 🙂