Eugenia Zelaya is the head of the Comprehensive Care for Women and Children area of the “José Dolores Fletes” Health Centre in the municipality of Ocotal, department of Nueva Segovia. She has been working to achieve the evaluation criteria for recertification as a child- and mother-friendly health unit, which is a key strategy for ensuring exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a baby’s life. This has involved ant-like work, doing everything possible to reach a common objective regardless of the obstacles involved, motivated by commitment, team work and effort.
Since 2014, when the evaluation process started, Eugenia has been working hard preparing her health unit. It started with the training of the health personnel in her health centre on the 13 steps of the breastfeeding policy and then moved into the community, reactivating and reinforcing the knowledge of the municipality’s eight breastfeeding support groups.
Competitions for wall presentations on breastfeeding, walks and other social mobilization activities were also among the strategies employed by the breastfeeding committees in each health unit of the department of Nueva Segovia with the aim of achieving certification or recertification as child- and mother-friendly units.
After several supervision sessions by the strategy’s evaluation committee and a knowledge validation exam on the breastfeeding policy’s 13 steps given to all of the health personnel, Eugenia saw the hard work she had put in come to fruition as her health unit was recertified as child- and mother-friendly. “The awareness among the health personnel and the work that has been done with the grassroots to persuade the community leaders that the best option is the natural one—in this case breasfeeding—really helped the implementation of this strategy,” she stressed.
Eugenia also recognizes that the relationship between the community and the health personnel has been a key element in undertaking different processes of change in favour of breastfeeding, as the community health network has taken on the responsibility of directly counseling the families. “The strengthening of the community network working hand in hand with the health personnel has been something strategic,” she explains. “At a certain moment, the women from the community health network were motivated to go to the health posts to give talks about breasfeeding to breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women.”
As a result of the implementation of this initiative, Eugenia has seen an impact in terms of the quality and warmth of the care given to pregant and post-partum women. “There has been enormous support from the Joint MDG (Millennium Development Goal) 4 and 5 Programme through UNICEF because in addition to financial resources, they have strengthened the knowledge of the health teams and inhabitants on maternal-infant topics,” Eugenia stressed. “They have also provided us with equipment and educational materials that facilitate the promotion of breastfeeding in each health unit.”
The work continues for Eugenia as she is still giving training sessions to both health personnel and inhabitants to sustain the initiative.
UNICEF has given technical and financial support to help ensure that 54 health units in the department of Nueva Segovia, including the hospital, trained all of their workers, formed breastfeeding committees, and organized breastfeeding support groups in the communities to provide counseling to pregnant and breastfeeding women. This counseling focused on how to ensure successful breastfeeding, describing its benefits, and advising the women’s partners and families about the importance of supporting breastfeeding women.