Coordinator of the Programme for the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (PROMAC) in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Simone Spence, is underscoring the need for expectant mothers to visit antenatal clinics at the earliest stage of pregnancy in order to ensure the best outcomes for mother and baby.
Speaking at a recent JIS Think Tank, Dr. Spence, who is also the Director of the Health Promotion and Protection Branch in the Ministry, noted that many pregnant women assume that they can delay antenatal care until the “pregnancy begins to show”.
This, she said, is ill-advised, as health professionals need to be able to identify any potential problems early in order for the necessary interventions to be made. She noted that there are conditions that are brought on or exacerbated by pregnancy and that it is important that these are addressed as soon as possible.
“Screening is important. We do what we call the complete blood count (CBC) to check the haemoglobin level of the person, and this tends to go down when persons get pregnant as part of the whole physiological response of the body,” she said.
Dr. Spence noted that a low haemoglobin level could result in anaemia, which must be properly managed.
“We do HIV testing as well as testing for syphilis, which are important, because we want to prevent mother-to-child transmission of these diseases,” she added.
Encouraging more expectant mothers to access healthcare early is the focus of PROMAC’s ‘Healthy Body is a Must, Clinic is a Must’ campaign, which is being executed through the National Family Planning Board.
The campaign, which is part of component four of PROMAC, addresses issues identified as the main contributory factors to the high number of maternal deaths, including presenting late to antenatal clinics and delivery hospitals, poor management of non-communicable illnesses such as diabetes (sugar) and hypertension (high blood pressure) and risk factors such as obesity, and poor nutrition and low activity levels.
PROMAC is being spearheaded by the Ministry under a Government of Jamaica-European Union (EU) bilateral agreement with funding support of approximately €22 million.
It aims to combat infant and maternal mortality with a focus on five main areas – Newborn and Emergency Obstetric Care, Quality of Primary Healthcare Services and Referral System, Health Workers Training and Research, Support for the Target Population and Institutional Support for Project Implementation.
Dr. Spence told JIS News that under component one of PROMAC, high dependency units (HDU) have been established in selected hospitals across the island to provide additional support to high-risk women and babies.
“There is always a potential risk with any pregnancy; anything can happen, so we want this system to be able to support women and babies that require this level of support to be able to have it,” she said.
Under component two, equipment has been procured to support the HDUs, including videographic and ultrasound machinery. Dr. Spence noted that expectant mothers are able to access these services in the primary healthcare setting (health centres and clinics) “so they don’t have to go to the hospital”. She told JIS News that component three of PROMAC involves the training of different categories of healthcare staff to appropriately manage high-risk women or refer them for further treatment.
Component four seeks to educate and increase awareness about the importance of healthcare interventions, before, during and after pregnancy, and targeted are expectant mothers and their wider support system.
“Whether it is the father, the spouse, the grandmother, or the aunt, these are persons who can be a major influence in mommy’s life, and can help to support and encourage our mothers, especially our young or older mothers,” Dr. Spence said.