CORE Group Meeting Concentrates on Health and Well-Being
Last week, CORE Group hosted its Fall Meeting at K4Health partner FHI360’s Washington, DC offices with the theme, Windows of Hope for Health and Well-Being. CORE is a group of health professionals from non-governmental development organizations that value sharing knowledge and ideas about how to best help children survive worldwide. CORE’s mission is to generate collaborative action and learning to improve and expand community-focused public health practices for underserved populations around the world.
In a meeting filled with powerful messages, one of the most compelling came from keynote speaker Dr. Isatou Jallow of the World Food Program as she shared, “When I discuss gender, I mean women and men . . . because there is not a society in the world that women exist in isolation.”
Dr. Jallow spoke about the Baby-Friendly Community Initiative (BFCI), which took place in Gambia. BFCI used breastfeeding as a catalyst for change to improve maternal and child nutrition, build local community capacity, and break down traditional gender barriers. BFCI built on the successes of the rural community and added positive behaviors, by talking with elders, pregnant women and their partners, and other community members to find the barriers to and stigmas against exclusive breastfeeding and proper nutrition for mother and child.
By gathering community feedback, the Initiative created mother-to-mother support groups, the “10 Steps to Successful Infant Feeding” program, and a baby-friendly rest house that allows mothers who return to working in the fields to keep their babies with them and continue to breastfeed exclusively. BFCI also offered informational sessions for pregnant and lactating women and their spouses on the importance of adequate maternal diet using locally available foods.
Involving men in all aspects of the intervention as well as building on traditional and local knowledge, beliefs, and practices were key factors that allowed this program to flourish. BFCI has been adopted as a national strategy in Gambia’s nutrition and health policies. It has also been expanded into 200 communities throughout the country. The Initiative’s story highlights the importance of involving a community at all levels in an intervention. Without prior knowledge of the real problems around breastfeeding and maternal/child nutrition, the BFCI project would have had trouble succeeding. Including the men of the community in every aspect of this project allowed for their input to play a key role in the health of their wives and children. In communities with primarily male leadership, engaging the male population can be the difference between a success and a failure.
Another keynote speaker at the CORE Group meeting, USAID’s Dr. John Borzazzo, also spoke about Maternal and Child Health (MCH). He discussed the recent focus that MCH has received at the policy level, due to high-visibility worldwide efforts including the $63 billion Global Health Initiative, launched in May 2009; the G8’s June 2010 Muskoka Initiative; and the Every Woman, Every Child strategy launched by the United Nations last September.
Dr. Borzazzo focused on two key points:
Programmatic delivery: How do we make high-impact interventions accessible and at scale?
- Integration: We know that it’s important to integrate at different levels from the community to the policy level.
Then, he asked: “What has this meant, exactly, for MCH?”
The target goal for the Global Health Initiative is to reduce maternal mortality by 30 percent across assisted countries. One effort toward reaching that goal is Saving Lives at Birth (which K4Health’s Kate Stence blogged about in relation to child marriage). The initiative strives to identify and scale-up transformative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in rural, low-resource settings. Saving Lives at Birth recently awarded 19 seed grants to the most innovative projects from a pool of more than 600 applicants. That is an enormous success in terms of concrete support for newly forming endeavors to strengthen data and results around MCH.
Yet, much work remains around saving lives at birth, even in high-income countries. In a technical discussion called Asserting the Rights of Childbearing Women: Tackling Disrespect and Abuse in Facility-based Maternity Care, USAID’s Mary Ellen Stanton and Rima Jolivet of the White Ribbon Alliance made that crystal clear. Their presentation showed that disrespect and ill treatment of women in childbirth is prevalent around the globe—and is seen in low-, mid-, and high-income countries. However, although there are many anecdotal reports involving mistreatment of women, there is very little research.
“In this field we always see and hear about the deplorable condition in which women give birth in developing countries; however, I never thought about how the women were actually treated. While we continue to advocate for our various cause such as HTSP and contraceptive security, we must also find ways to create a common language in our communities in order to define a normative standard of care.”
CORE Group’s Communication Manager Pinky Patel shared what the organization viewed as their takeaways.
During the CORE Group Fall meeting, many windows of opportunity opened as CORE Group members and colleagues came together to learn, network, and collaborate on ways to increase global health and well being. From tackling issues of equity to nutrition to community case management, participants shared best practices, lessons learned, and inspired one another to continue moving forward, despite pending budget cuts and policy changes. Dory Storms Award winner, Dr. Peter Winch, summed it up nicely when he pointed out that, “We need to work with one another if we ever hope to overcome the challenges we face in global health.” NGOS, universities, policy makers, and the private sector must develop synergistic partnerships, work together and learn from one another. Without collaboration and knowledge-sharing, no amount of funding in the world will solve our problems.Communications Specialist Rebecca Shore, Communications Coordinator Wendasha Jenkins, and Communications Manager Kate Stence contributed to this post.