nutritionCounsellingWhile significant progress has been made in reducing child mortality over the past 50 years, it is recognized that the progress is not equitable. In rich and poor countries alike, the poorest and most disadvantaged children and mothers continue to miss out on life-saving interventions.

The next 1,000 days are critical. The achievement of Millennium Development Goals 3 through 6  (promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and combat HIV/AIDs, malaria, TB and other diseases,) and 8 (develop a global partnership for development) will require intensified efforts at all levels.  This includes increased political will at the international and national levels as well as an acknowledgment of the important role played by individuals themselves at the district, community and household levels.

As the world’s largest humanitarian organization, the Red Cross Red Crescent movement is playing an active role in reducing vulnerabilities through its presence both in the last mile and in the most remote communities around the globe. Furthermore, the movement participates at global and national decision-making tables.

 The Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, as independent auxiliaries to their governments, enjoy a unique relationship entailing mutual responsibilities based on international and national laws.  Thus, the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies are well positioned to advocate for the increased political will that will be necessary to ensure the world’s sustained commitment to child survival and women’s health.  National Societies support the achievement of national health priorities, with a focus on ensuring that the poorest and most disadvantaged children and mothers are able to access life-saving interventions.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent’s 13 million volunteers, as members of their own communities, are familiar with their environments and know how best to bridge the social, cultural and other barriers that impede progress towards reducing preventable maternal and child deaths. Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers extend health services beyond the health facility doors through innovative operational models that are culturally appropriate, cost-effective and sustainable.

These volunteers have learned two important lessons from first-hand experience: (1) strengthening community action with innovative approaches ensures that health care reaches the most vulnerable, targets appropriate gatekeepers and crosses local barriers to uptake of health services; and (2) increased biological and community resilience is not something outsiders can accomplish or bring to individuals or communities. The starting point for any humanitarian or development support must be the recognition and appreciation of the efforts of individuals, households and communities to strengthen their own resilience.  

The Red Cross Red Crescent fully supports the commitment governments made at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness  in 2011, that “development strategies and programmes prioritise the building of resilience among people and societies at risk from shocks, especially in highly vulnerable settings.” It also supports their claim that “Investing in resilience and risk reduction increases the value and sustainability of our development efforts.” For example, most interventions related to maternal, new born and child health focuses primarily on improving women’s knowledge and practices to maternal health issues. However, in many societies women are dependent on the male members of the family to either accompany or permit them or their children to seek medical care. Hence it is pertinent that men and boys are aware of risk factors for both women and girls. Women as well as girls who are married early on can face many complications during and after pregnancy.

These interventions which aim to build communities’ resilience and achieve improvements in maternal and child health need to involve the elders (both men and women), religious leaders and more specifically men and boys given their familial and social roles within communities in order to improve maternal and child health outcomes.  

The world will stand accountable in one thousand days.

Honduran Red Cross promotes men’s participation in maternal, newborn and child health

In Honduras, like many other countries, family health is mainly seen as the sole responsibility of women. However, in the areas of Copan and Santa Barbara in Honduras, many men have started taking on new roles, as active and engaged participants and advocates of maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH). Don Ramon is one of these men.

In his rural village in Copan, Don Ramon works as a community health monitor and as a traditional birth attendant. After his sister died giving birth, he raised her daughter as his own. When his own wife gave birth to their children, the option of going to a birthing clinic was not available, and so he learned to assist her during the home delivery. Don Ramon is challenging the views on gender roles held by most people in his communities.

The Honduras Red Cross REDES (meaning “Networks”) project has been implemented since 2006, with support from the Canadian Red Cross and in partnership with the Honduran Ministry of Health, municipal organizations, and local communities.

By the end of the 2011 year, the project has benefitted almost 80,000 men, women and children. The number of children registered has gone from zero in 2006 to more than 11,000 in November 2011.With an attendance rate of 92 percent a reduction of 62 percent of cases of infant death has been achieved in the project area.  There has also been the publication of three gender booklets for training and above all, more men present during monthly prenatal checkups, births of babies and monthly weighings of babies.

Kenyan Red Cross uses community case management to bring health to the home

In support of the Government of Kenya’s Community Strategy, the Kenya Red Cross Society, under the leadership of the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, is supporting a home management  malaria initiative. Kenya Red Cross volunteers, supervised by Ministry of Health staff, provide life-saving artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) drugs to children under five in remote communities with poor access to health services and facilitate referral in the case of danger signs.

Partnerships bridge the vaccination gap

Working under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and in partnership with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) Alliance, the Democratic Republic of Congo Red Cross, works to bring routine immunization to communities. Trained volunteers go door-to-door to reach children under five and pregnant women, focusing on areas that are hard to reach. During their household visits, volunteers also raise awareness on the importance of completing the full vaccination schedule and dispel any myths about immunization.  

Mobile technologies support community based solutions

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)  Haiti Beneficiary Communications Programme, expanded in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, has provided information on a wide variety of topics, from health, hygiene and cholera, to weather alerts and hurricane preparedness tips. It has also increased its focus on two-way communications as a way of giving Haitians a voice, ensuring their needs and opinions are represented in the recovery process. The programme uses a variety of old and new technologies. For example a short messaging service (SMS) system has been used to reach millions of mobile phone users, a weekly radio show broadcasts live to the nation and posters are used in camps. As highlighted by Undersecretary General Schmale, “Mobile technologies are genuinely changing the way we work in terms of our ability to impact populations, collect data in real time, and adopt real strategies adapted to the field”.