Improving Maternal and Child Health in Sri Lanka
Over the past year, Plan has been working with local residents and government health officials in villages across Sri Lanka on a new Health Promotion Strategy to make simple lifestyle changes in order improve maternal and child health.
Plan’s goal is to lower the under-five child malnutrition rates, which can often be as high as fifty-percent. The program also seeks to improve early childhood development.
In the first phase of the program, Plan collaborated with Rajarata University’s Foundation for Health Promotion. The foundation trained health officials on the best practices for working with villagers to create an environment where locals would feel comfortable discussing health related issues and would feel empowered to find solutions to their problems.
Mothers Work Together to Create Change
Once this groundwork was established, Plan learned that many mothers had been concerned with the malnutrition of their children. After speaking with local officials, they organized group exercise sessions and combined their limited food supplies in order to ensure that their children received a more balanced diet. As a result of their actions, the mothers were in better health and the number of village children who were underweight decreased.
According to prior reports collected by Midwives in the Moneragala District, the number of underweight infants under the age of one had been steadily increasing from 0.2% in 2007 to 1.4% in 2010. However in the year following the initiation of the new program, this number has fallen to 1%.
Similar observations have been made in Palagala where the number of underweight children between the ages of 2 and 5 has decreased from 48% in 2009 to 35% in 2011.
Although an empirical study has not yet been conducted, there has not been any difference made to the Routine Child Health Program besides the addition of Plan’s Health Promotion Strategy.
In addition to malnutrition, other villagers had been concerned about early childhood development. Since young children spend most of their time in the home, it was critical for parents to have a stimulating home environment to aid children in their growth and development. As a solution to this problem, villagers from each village worked together to brainstorm and create a model baby room. These model baby rooms contained colorful posters, hanging mobiles, hand-written alphabets, and other simple designs that would serve as a model that mothers could mimic in their homes. Fathers also played a central role in the program by increasing the amount of time spent with their children. They also helped build and decorate dedicated play areas where the village children could gather and learn social skills. One of the villagers, Inomalee Madhushani, describes the change in her village:
"We gave our children chances to get together and play and the results were very positive. They know each other very well now. They even exchange their toys."
Fathers Play a Role in Improving the Home Environment
Fathers also have the important role of creating a happy home environment. In most of the villages, each family has a happiness calendar where each family member marks if they were happy, sad or neutral on a common calendar.
Since the calendar keeps track of the daily feelings of family members, it is easy for people to recognize their own behavior and its impact on other members of the family. Since the program began, women have also reported that there has been a decrease in the number of arguments and the amount of alcohol consumed by their husands.
A ten-year-old participant recently shared their experience with children at an international meeting co-sponsored by Plan: "For our birthdays we decided to give a gift to our parents in appreciation of their efforts."
By working together, the mothers and children have become healthier and more confident, and the success of this program has now attracted interest from other agencies in Sri Lanka, who plan to replicate Plan's methods.